"Up Close and Personal" will feature tales and exploits of Herkimer and Montgomery County residents. Our featured ancestor, Captain Henry Eckler, was the ancestor of Rex Stevenson. We welcome all submissions of Herkimer/Montgomery family stories, family legends, and old rumors that will enlighten as to how life was back when. Your story might mention a neighbor or relative who someone is looking for!
The following was adapted by Mrs. Eunice Cooper in 1972 from an essay written by Bonnie Eckler in May, 1968 for the annual Yorker Club convention (the Junior branch of the New York State Historical Association).
The first Eckler family that settled in the Mohawk Valley was either of German or Holland Dutch nationality. The lack of records of such an early period makes it difficult to be sure of their origin. The first generation of Ecklers settled in the area located near Otsego Creek, locally known as the Chyle (formerly Youngfield), and started farming in Warren Township about 1765. Captain Henry Eckler is probably the most noted member of the Ecklers that settled in the Mohawk Valley. His position of Captain in the military during the Revolutionary War gave him the prominence that distinguished him from his other relatives. In fact, for several years after the Revolution, nearly every Eckler family had a son named Henry.
Captain Henry is a member of the second generaton of Ecklers that settled in the Mohawk Valley. He was the oldest son of Hendrick and was born on August 11, 1739. He attended school in Canajoharie and later received his father's homestead of 100 acres. He married on November 27, 1764 and had as many as 13 or 15 children. On April 29, 1760 Henry enlisted in Captain Christopher Yates' militia company ofAlbany County. According to the muster rolls he was twenty years old, a laborer by occupation, was born "at the Mohawk River " and was five feet, eight inches tall. Records of the French and Indian War indicate that Henry was a private in Captain Jacob Klock's company. This company was called out in July 1763 in response to an Indian raid at Burnetsfield (German Flats.)
Henry settled at the Chyle with his father in 1767. His original homestead was located only a short distance from the Chyle-hole. When the Revolutionary War broke out Henry entered as a private. On May 18, 1776 he was appointed a Captain in the Tryon County Militia.
Captain Henry commanded a militia company at the Chyle. Here is an example of one of the orders Henry received during his command.
You are to have your company unto arm on the 2nd
day of this instant 10 o'clock in the forenoon. You are
to give four men out of your company either volunteer
or by draft. They are to march to Fort Schuyler with
good arms and catoymans. They shall be discharged by
the first troops that come from Albany. They shall have
Continental pay. They are to be at the house of Capt.
Staring on the 2nd day of this inst. at 10 o'clock, in
--Peter Bellinger, Col.
Many stories, some probably quite exaggerated, exist telling about individual experiences of Captain Henry during his service. Many of these stories deal with his relationship with Joseph Brant, a famous Indian chieftain who commanded the Iroquois forces that fought on the side of the British. Brant's Indian name was Thayendanego, or "the one who puts two bets together." Brant later became a colonel in the British army and his raids on many Mohawk Valley settlements caused much damage.
According to an early story, Henry and Joseph attended school together in Canajoharie and used to often wrestle together as sport. Henry almost always won the fall. Shortly before the Revolution, Brant met Henry at the Chyle and remarked "You used to throw me when we wrestled at school but you can't do it now." Off to the barn they went and again Henry threw Brant, who then admitted that Henry was the better man.
After the Revolution broke out Brant unsuccessfully tried to persuade Henry to join the British forces. In hopes of winning Captain Henry and his neighbors over to the side of the British, Brant did destroy the Chyle settlement during the early years of the war. Two facts seem to support this view. First, the Chyle settlement was one of the outlying settlements in the Mohawk Valley and open to Indian attack. Secondly, the settlement was conveniently located on an old Indian trail and although the neighboring settlements were all destroyed early on in the war the Chyle was left unharmed until 1781.
In the summer of 1776 General Herkimer and Joseph Brant held a peace conference in Unadilla, New York. Captain Henry was selected to kill Brant if Brant showed any sign of violence. Since the conference was friendly, Henry was saved the ordeal of killing his old friend.
As Brant and his forces were en route to destroy the settlement of Andrustown, some distance ahead of his warriors Brant met Captain Henry near the Chyle. Brant warned him that his men were coming and that they would kill him immediately. Brant suggested that Henry hide in the bushes until his men passed. Captain Henry accepted his suggestion and escaped discovery.
Yet another story about Henry and Joseph Brant is as follows: During a battle near Tribes' Hill, Brant sent word to Captain Eckler that he wanted to engage in a wrestling match. Henry accepted and the battle ceased while the two commanders engaged in one of their wrestling matches. Captain Henry threw Brant every time and at the end of the match. Brant's men were not pleased and the battle resumed. Captain Eckler's forces then drove Brant's men from the field with heavy losses.
In the late summer of 1781 Brant and his Indian forces finally attacked the Chyle settlement. Captain Henry and his oldest son, Henry, were out in the fields gathering crops when they noticed smoke pouring from the burning buildings. Henry ran back to the house, telling his son to hide in the woods. "Captain Eckler, do you surrender?" shouted Brant as he met the captain. Eckler replied "No, I do not!" Running out the back door he started for the woods. As he jumped over a fallen apple tree his foot caught and he fell as the Indians began firing at him. The Indians then set up a yell of triumph since they thought they had killed him. The Captain was soon to his feet and jumped a high brush fence at the edge of the field, hiding himself beneath a fallen elm. The Indians followed him and examined the top and hollow of the tree, but they failed to find him. Brant allegedly commented "The long-legged Dutchman is too many for us; he used to get away from me but now he has got way from both of us."
Back at the house the Indians took Captain Henry's wife and children prisoners. Then they destroyed anything they couldn't take with them. One of Eckler's daughters was scalped while binding wheat. After the Indians had collected all their prisoners they said they would travel rapidly, keep close together and not let any of the children cry. Just after they stopped at a spring for water, Captain Henry's youngest daughter, about four years old, wanted to return home and started back crying. Before her mother Christina could reach the child, an Indian grabbed her by the hair and scalped her as a warning to the others to suppress their fright. The Indian threw the body into a tree and the party was driven on. They were held in the woods for two or three days before they were allowed to go to the forts along the river, cold and hungry but otherwise unharmed.
Captain Eckler listed the property that had been destroyed during the raid and the list showed that Henry was a fairly prosperous farmer. The loss totaled 171 British pounds, a lot of money at that time. The list included 300 skipples of oats, 80 skipples of wheat, 100 skipples of peas, 12 loads of hay, 200 skipples of potatoes, 80 pounds of flax, his barn and house, 3 milch cows, household furniture and clothing and 12 pounds of hard money. A skipple is a measure equaling three-quarters of a bushel.
After the Revolution, Henry again settled down on his farm at the Chyle. He was appointed assessor for German Flats Township on January 22, 1787. He was also Road Commissioner. His education in Canajoharie enabled him to teach school at the Chyle, both in English and in German. Henry died Mary 2, 1820. His wife Christina died at the age of 94 on January 21, 1841, living to see the birth of one of her great-great grandchildren. Henry and Christina are buried in the Squawk Cemetery in Stark Township, Herkimer County.
The Chyle is still referred to as the Eckler settlement and the farm, as of 1972, was still operated by one of Captain Henry's descendants. More on the Eckler family can be read in The Eckler Family of the Mohawk Valley by A. Ross Eckler Jr., and in The History of Herkimer County, edited by George A. Hardin.
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