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
THE TOWN OF SCHUYLER AS A FACTOR IN THE
HISTORY OF HERKIMER COUNTY.
An Address by J. H. J. Watkins, of Schuyler,
Delivered before the Herkimer County Historical Society, April 12, 1898.
History, generally speaking is a great panorama of the centuries
representing scenes, too extended to be seen at once and so pictured a
little at a time that we may be enabled the better to appreciate the
separate parts of the great whole. I will endeavor to throw upon the
canvass for your consideration a few small views of the past and present
of the town of Schuyler in our county and, perhaps, may see fit to
prognosticate, from known signs and systems, something of its future.
Some people think that patriotism is love for the land of one's birth.
If that were absolutely true I should feel very sad, for having been
born over three thousand miles away and under the British flag and
always having been proud of an inherent aversion to the brag and swagger
of the average Johnnie Bull, I should feel doomed to spend my days
without the pale of that delightful sprit realm in which souls are set
on fire with the spirit of '76, '61, and '98. But if patriotism, as I
believe, is love of home or country whether of one's birth or adoption I
can claim kindred with the brave hearts who are willing to endure
suffering or even lose life itself to maintain the honor of their homes.
I hate the man who belittles by word or deed the town in which he
lives. He is a traitor, not pure but very simple. The man who lives in
Herkimer and does his trading in Little Falls or Utica deserves six
months at least once if not twice a year. Infidelity to home interest
is the prolific cause of so many failures in small towns. If these last
thoughts seem an apparent digression I crave your pardon on the theory
that indomitable allegiance to one's home town I believe to be one of
the cardinal principles in the doctrine of true patriotism.
In compiling a record of events in the early history of one's town,
difficulties almost insurmountable are always met. In the
ever-increasing distance from primitive times there is great danger that
false traditions may creep into authenticated narrative and that such
clouded stories as "William Tell shooting the apple from the head of his
son," be incorporated into the historic annals of a country. It is
therefore difficult to establish a correct pricipuum cognoscendi.
Tradition is not authentic in any essential particular. The paradosis
of the Greek and cabala of the Jew may have been important before the
advent of the New Testament, but as Augustine fitly remarked, that they
could not be relied upon in the great distance from the age of the
Apostles, so we say that tradition is not history, and is valuable only
as it corroborates the established annals of a period. Stories handed
down orally from father to son are liable to material changes with each
generation. True history is a record of undisputed facts crystallized
upon the tables of stone or indelibly stamped upon the printed page.
But so much of tradition has insinuated itself even into the established
account that there is ample room to doubt whether there is any
absolutely correct history antedating memory of the oldest inhabitant.
In writing this paper I have been signally favored with the
companionship of reliable octogenarians and nearly all the facts which I
shall present for your consideration have been taken from the lips of
those aged people.
The present town of Schuyler is tract of land consisting of something
less than 25,000 acres, situated on the north side of the Mohawk river
and just west of the town of Herkimer. It was originally nearly half as
large as the whole county, the towns of Trenton and Deerfield in Oneida
county and a part of Newport in this county having been taken from it
within fourteen years of its organization in 1792.
John Jurgh Kass had followed the Indian trails up the Mohawk valley as
early as 1720, over 70 years before Schuyler was known as a town. The
earliest purchase of land by white people in what is now central New
York was recorded in the Burnetsfield patent which began on its west
boundary at the Mohawk river, on the line or nearly so between the
Sandford Getman and Andrew Davison farms just east of the old Frankfort
depot, running east almost to the village of Little Falls. The next
purchase was by John Jurgh Kass in the present town of Schuyler, a tract
of 1100 acres. This was in 1724, after Kast, had satisfied himself for
four years that he had struck an earthly paradise. Kast, as he
afterwards wrote his name, made lots of money trading with the Indians
and did not need to occupy the land for a great length of time. Joseph
Kast of Mohawk is a descendant. The thrift of the original John Jurgh
seems to have been transmitted to his entire progeny, for to be named
Kast is an evidence of wealth and prosperity.
It was a long time before any further settlements were effected in the
present town of Schuyler. About forty years had elapsed after Kast
bought his 1100 acres before Peter Hasenclever, a shrewd and adventurous
old German of Wirtemberg, pushed his way westward from his iron works on
the Hudson and obtained a site for a settlement on the Luther P.
Sterling and D. I. Bridenbecker farms, about a mile west of the
Frankfort depot. This was the first settlement of any account in the
town and marked the western boundary of the white settlement before the
revolutionary war. Hasenclever seems to have been authority on mineral
as well as vegetable substances and knew well how to utilize both, as
his iron works at Poughkeepsie and potash factory at New Petersburg (now
east Schuyler) abundantly testified.
All supplies were then transmitted up the Mohawk in flat-boats and I
have often seen hand made nails taken from some of the old houses built
at New Petersburg. During the revolutionary war, a few years later, the
inhabitants of New Petersburg suffered intensely, mostly from the
ravages of the treachous and marauding Iroquois, although the tories
were not much less sever. And here it may be proper to remark that
circumstances have a great deal to do with our opinions of who are the
rebels. In '76 the rebels succeeded and became patriots because their
cause was right; in '61 the rebel were defeated and never became
anything but rebels because their cause was wrong. The right or wrong
of it makes a difference. In the vicinity of the house now owned by
Mrs. Elizabeth Gilbert was the much talked of New Petersburg fort. This
was a crude affair looking very much like children's work. It consisted
of two or three log houses around which was constructed a picket fence
made of narrow board or planks sawed at the Hasenclever saw mill and
about twelve feet high, but the north side was made of young tree about
six inches through, sharpened and driven into the ground. In this
enclosure the inhabitants huddled at night and worked day times in the
field with fire arms at easy command. This was farming under
difficulties but perhaps as profitable as it had been for a few years
back. Luther P. sterling showed me the stump of the tree the other day
just outside of the old fort into which an Indian climbed and picked off
the whites as they went down to the spring after water; after awhile
Baltis Bridenbecker picked off the Indian and his comrades came in the
night and carried him off. On the farm which I now occupy the men were
at work one time in the field when the Indians swept down upon them.
One young fellow by the name of Peter Rima hid in and adjacent thicket.
When the Indians had bound the Germans as prisoners, they ordered the
captive to call the youngster. In the German language they shouted
"Peter Bleib wo du bist!" which being translated means "stay where you
are" and the young fellow lived to tell the tale. When by legislative
enactment the town was founded in 1792 temporary officers were appointed
who served until April 2nd, 1793 when a full set of officers were
elected with Isaac Brayton as supervisor. Isaac Brayton was also member
of assembly in 1797 but the present town lays no claim to Isaac Brayton
because he never lived within it limits. The first assemblyman the town
claims as her own was Robert Burch in 1811 and again 1812. He was a man
of great mental power and superior business abilities. Then came
Olmstead Hough in 1813. The town was in the incipient stages of its
political career but seemed to have quite a voice in the agency of
making the laws. In 1840 George Burch was assemblyman from Herkimer
county and the town of Schuyler. Like his father he attended to public
business as he did his own, earnestly, methodically, successfully. In
1857 and again in 1858 the veteran agriculturist, Harris Lewis, was our
assemblyman. He was a model assemblyman because he looked after the
interests of the farmer whose business is the basis of all the business
interests of the world. Erasmus W. Day, the old political war horse of
the town represented us in 1869. Mr. Day was exceptionally candid and
outspoken but he never went back on a friend. If he was for you you
knew it and if was against you you surely did. Last but not least among
our assemblymen was John M. Budlong in 1885 and '86. He is a man
eminently fitted to grapple with great questions and justly enjoys the
enviable reputation of always standing for the right as his conscience
dictates. The proportion of public men sent out by the town of Schuyler
has been remarkable considering the circumstances. It is emphatically
an agricultural district. The men are farmers, not office-seekers, and
when chosen, the office has sought the man and not the man the office.
Lawyers locate in villages. To be sure they are a necessary evil and
therefore must be endured, but one thing is certain, they are more than
willing to appropriate the honor and the salaries of all the public
offices. Schuyler neither has nor has had any lawyers, so we have not
had to be charged with the office of district attorney, county judge and
surrogate or any of the positions for which only lawyers are supposed to
be fitted. The first man ever elected to a county office from our town
is the present county clerk. (A member of assembly is in a measure a
state officer because he is elected to legislate for the whole state.)
His record is an open book, known and read by all men. D. M. Richardson
is not only an honor to the town of Schuyler, in which he was born, but
to the whole county, as an exceptionally capable public officer.
The town of Schuyler is remarkable for the cleanliness of its political
character. It is neither bought nor sold at primaries or in
conventions. It may take sides with existing political factions, but
whatever faction receives its support, receives it purely on principle.
One thing remarkable about the town is its political stability. It is
overwhelmingly republican. It can be depended upon. Other towns are
like a weathervane on an April day; Schuyler is as steadfast and uniform
as the needle to the pole. But the most remarkable thing about Schuyler
is its attitude on the temperance question. This question of the
manufacture and sale of intoxicating beverages is the burning question
of the hour. The town of Schuyler has solved it. The sentiment against
the traffic is so pronounced that a man who favored it in that town,
should he be running for office, would be buried so deep that even
Gabriel's trumpet would have to sound an extra blast to reach him. It
may be said that it is exclusively a farming district, that there are no
villages and therefore there are no facilities for the traffic. Well,
if farming is a safeguard against intemperance, let us all become
farmers. I would rather be a nomad than a drunkard. But the
insinuation is groundless as applied to Schuyler. I have been a member
of the town board for nearly thirty years. In 1869 a man applied to the
board for license to sell liquor in the village of West Schuyler. The
town board then had the power to grant licenses. I was late that day.
The board stood two and two. I felt that the proudest moment of my life
had come to me. I felt that I had the sole power to prevent a covenant
with death and a league with hell. The man did not get a license. It
is not that the town lacks the facilities, but its leading men lack the
disposition. There are men in town who would like to see liquor sold.
It has been intimated that some would like to sell it. It is the only
temperance town in the county, and yet one of it marked features is the
absence of what are politically called prohibitionists. One man talks
prohibition and is credited with voting the democratic ticket, and on
especial occasions I have known as many as half a dozen votes to be cast
for nominees of that party. And yet I than God for the prohibitionists.
I believe they have a mission to perform, and they perform it. Great
reforms follow in the paths previously blazed by agitators. The
agitators themselves seldom accomplish much other than the blazing.
William Lloyd Garrison was as anti-slavery as John G. Woolley is
anti-liquor, but William Lloyd Garrison or any of his eccentric and
almost if not quite erratic followers ever freed a slave, and yet they
blazed the pathway for the republican party, and there are grave doubts
that the republican party would have been wrought up to the noble work
without the previous labors of the anti-slavery agitators.
The following is the position Schuyler takes on the liquor traffic.
When the Raines liquor law was enacted it provided for local option;
that is, about five separate propositions were submitted to the people
at the election. A town need not have liquor sold by the drink but it
could have it sold by measure or it could sell it to be swallowed off of
the premises, or it could license druggists to sell it for medicinal
purposes; but every separate proposition was defeated by the voters of
Schuyler. Name me the other town that did as well. But the mere fact
of defeat is not just the thing of which Schuyler is so intensely proud.
If a hundred votes were cast, fifty one might have defeated forty nine
and still the public sentiment would have been almost evenly divided.
In our town the proposition most favored, that of selling by druggists
for medicinal purposes was defeated by over six to one, and that of
selling by the drink as a beverage by over ten to one.
Schuyler has three churches, all Methodist. The town was divided into
school districts in 1813 and but few changes have since been made. The
best school house and grounds is that at East Schuyler but great
improvement ought to be made in the school buildings of the town. Like
too many other towns the disposition to hurry off the pupil to larger
towns and schools of higher grade is far too prevalent. I am proud of
the general trend of improvement of the age but I believe that many of
the fads of modern schools are a positive detriment to the pupils. The
best spellers and best grammarians I have met grew up to be almost men
and women before they said good bye to the old red school houses in the
country districts. The town was named after the oft maligned but always
exonerated Gen. Philip Schuyler. He was born in Albany and for the
valuable services rendered during the revolutionary war was rewarded
with a large tract of land in this region. A number of his relatives
for awhile occupied the territory, among them the Bleeckers, and others
who have helped to make Albany famous for its high toned society.
The East Schuyler Literary society I think deserves mention as an
important factor in the progress of the town.
Among the pioneers who settled the town were Henri Staring, first judge
of Herkimer county, appointed by Governor Clinton, Robert Burch
assemblyman from the county in 1811-1812, Elisha Ladd, Stephen Rose,
Nehemiah Richardson, Nathan Budlong, Thomas Wood, John Goo, Daniel Smith
and others. These hardy pioneers were the ancestors of the East
Schuyler Literary society and its members delight to trace back the
honored relationship that exist between them and the brave and hardy
tillers of the virgin soil. The society was formed for general literary
culture but makes a specialty of studying the works of modern authors.
One of the remarkable things about it is that while it has celebrated
its sixth anniversary and has bi-weekly meetings it has never missed a
session. Most societies of this character have their ebb and flow
tides, this one is as stable and uniform as the politics of the town.
The ablest historian in town is Alexis Johnson, who makes a specialty of
the early history of the town. Edgar Jackson Klock is our antiquarian
and a visit to his residence and a look at his collection of relics is
always a treat. In the Board of Supervisors the town has always been an
important factor. It has had the honor of more chairmen than any other
town, all of which it has received with thanks. The rising generation
of the town of Schuyler bid fair to out do their ancestors in political
sagacity and a desire for a large comprehension of political economy.
In case of a war with Spain which is now more than probable Schuyler can
be relied upon to furnish its full quota. We believe in the future of
Schuyler. With due deference to the rights and accomplishments of other
towns she is anxious to march in the van-guard and prove herself worthy
of the position she occupies.
Thank you again to volunteer Dick Nabinger for helping make so much information available!