[ picture of mother and child]

What better time to start our women's section than Mother's Day 1997? This section is dedicated to the people who really kept things going throughout wars, cold winters, and the hardships of developing the wilderness. Our initial features include profiles of two reknowned local women, Maria Schell and Roxana Cook Rice. Other women appearing on this page enjoyed temporary notoriety. All were appreciated by their neighbors and family. We welcome your contributions of stories or items about other local women.


ELLA EDSALL: The Lady Who Liked to Read

MRS. DELINA FILKINS: Stark's 113-Year-Old Woman

MAY HOOPER'S Girlhood Memories

DEAN MILLER and Slavery in Herkimer County


MARIA SCHELL: The Angel at the Fortress Gate

MARGARET TUGER: Beloved School Principal

NANCY VAN ALSTINE: Guardian of the Mohawk Valley




Pam Villafuerte sent in the tip that Mrs. Martin J. VANALSTINE's (born near Canajoharie) story about herself, family, Indians and imprisoned husband is on the University of Michigan's site in book form. Click here.


Elizabetha Pfeiffer Bell

In 1749 Elizabetha Pfeiffer, born in 1731 to Palatines Andreas and Ernestina Pfeiffer, married Johannes Bell, son of the Palatine Johan Frederick and Anna Maria Helmer Bell, originally Burnetsfield residents who later went to Andrustown. Johan Frederick Bell and other family members died there in the Andrustown Massacre.

The year 1758 found Johannes and Elizabetha Bell and their children living in the small community of German Flats, which then consisted of about twenty houses on the south side of the "River Corlaer" (The Mohawk) and eight on the north side, which had been abandoned in the 1756 and 1757 attacks which ravaged the area. A fort, known as Ft. Khouri, or Fort Harkeman, had been built on the south side of the river. It was described as "Harkemeis house at ye German Flats", and consisted of "stockaded work around a church and block-house, with a ditch and a parapet pallisadoed, thrown up by Sir William Johnson last year (1756) upon alarm then given".

In the spring of 1758 word came of an imminent attack by the Onondaga. "Captain Herchamer commanded the fort at this time, and, on the first intimation of danger, collected within the fort all of the inhabitants he could gather, before the attack was made upon the settlements" "On April 30, 1758 a large party of Indians and a small number of French attacked the settlements on the south side of the river near the fort." "Captain Herkimer sent word to all of the residents to come into the fort. Mr. and Mrs. Johannes Bell, with two of their children and an infant, went first into the woods to drive in their cows. They were surprised there by Indians who killed Mr. Bell and all the children before the mother's eyes, and dashed out the infant's brains against a tree." Elizabetha Bell "was scalped, her nose cut off and grievously wounded in her breast and thigh" and was left for dead.

During the night she revived to that terrible scene, and somehow found it within herself to crawl "some distance" to the fort. Her arrival is described in The History of Herkimer County. "A woman came into the fort the next morning, who was scalped, her nose nearly cut off, and wounded in the breast and side; and she was even then, in that mutilated condition, supposed likely to recover". Ladies at the fort stitched her nose back on, that was described as "hanging from a little piece of skin", and tended her wounds, nursing her through her recovery and the birth three months later of a daughter Catharina. This child, Catharina Bell is my five times great-grandmother.

Scarred, but indomitable, Elizabetha wore, ever after, a little black cap to cover her head wounds. On the 13th of December 1761 she re-married a widower and longtime family friend Theobald Nellis, who had been left a widower with a large family. Elizabetha gave him two more children, a daughter Dorothea in 1763 and a son Theobaldus in 1766. Her surviving children by Johannes Bell were Maria Bell born in 1750, wife of Martin Seybert, Andrew Bell born about 1752, Frederick Bell born about 1754 who married Lena Seeber, and Thomas Bell born about 1756, as well as Catharina Bell, the infant born after the attack in 1758 who married Richard Elwood, who fought in The Battle of Oriskany.

Elizabetha Pfeiffer Bell Nellis lived for 32 years after her bludgeoning, scalping and other terrible injuries, "there being a small soft spot upon her head which was always sensitive. Going down into the cellar one day she struck this spot upon a beam", and this was thought to have caused her death soon after.

Elizabetha carried me, and a myriad of her descendants with her in her womb as she crawled along that awful night. As a woman I feel deeply that it was this knowledge of the life within her, that shone ahead of her like a bright spark of hope, lighting her way from that valley of death to her remaining years of full and fruitful life. She deserves to be remembered.

This occurrence is detailed in "The Documentary History of New York", Vol.1, page 337 of the Quarto Edition, "The History of Herkimer County", page 59, "The History of Springfield", by Kate Gray, page 185, and many other sources, as well as in "Ellwood Genealogy", NYGBR, 1922, "The Elwood Family", typescript record in the Herkimer County Historical Society, "Nellis-Nelles, Immigrants from the Palitinate 1710, Vol.1 The First Eight generations", compiled by the Nellis-Nelles Family Association and The Herkimer Historical Society , as well as various Bell Family genealogical records.

By Sharilyn L. Whitaker
October 1998


Elizabeth Catherine (Bowman) Walrath

This article from the St. Johnsville Enterprise and News, February 23, 1931 under "Women in the Revolution" was contributed by Jerome A. Walrath. The same article is reprinted in "The House Family of the Mohawk" by M. R. Shaver.

This story was narrated by Elizabeth Scriber House to her son Addison S. House and granddaughter, L. Josephine Shaver. It was about her grandmother, Elizabeth Bowman, the wife of Henry Walrod who operated the ferry across the Mohawk River near Fort Plain. (Note: the surnames Walrod, Walrodt, Walrad, Walradt, Wallrath, and Walrath generally refer to the same family. Today, Walrath and Walrod are the most common spellings.)

In the words of L. Josephine Shaver:

"Grandmother and her family lived near Fort Plain. I think about two miles away and near the Mohawk River. There were several other families living near them, as it seems to have been a little settlement of itself. This little settlement had always been on quite friendly terms with the Indians and many times they had stopped at Grandmother Walrod's door for food and were never refused. Quite often the women and children of the settlement were left at home alone when the men were busy with the duties of the farm or were under arms fighting for the independence of the colonies. One day an Indian, whom Grandmother had befriended many times, stopped at the house and sat down on the doorstep. He was very silent and Grandmother asked the cause, as she could see that his mind was troubled. At last he spoke, first exacting her promise never to reveal what he was about to tell her as having come from him. This she readily agreed to and he told her that the Indians were already on the warpath and were about to raid the settlement and for her to flee while there was yet time. Again imploring secrecy as to his part in her escape, as his life would be forfeited if his tribe found out he had revealed their plans, he disappeared into the forest. Mrs. Wendover, a neighbor, accompanied by her two children and her dog was calling on Grandmother Walrod when the Indian gave the alarm. The two women soon gathered their children about them and started to seek safety. Two children were missing but they soon found them gathering nuts nearby. As they left home they could see the smoke and flames issuing from the buildings at the other end of the settlement. The Indians were already at work on their deadly mission, as the whole settlement was burned and the stock driven away. The two women together with their children hid under the roots of an upturned tree while the Indians passed over the creek on a log bridge nearby. They were unseen by the Indians and Grandmother Walrod often commented on the silence of the dog during the time of their hiding. After the Indians had gone it was necessary for the two women to ford the river and carry their children to the safety at the Fort, where other women were stationed during their husband's absence. There was one old man and a boy of about twelve years of age at the Fort. The women put on men's coats to make it appear that there were men at the garrison, loaded what guns there were and placed themselves under the command of the old man. They awaited the approach of the Indians until they got very close to the Fort. When the command to fire was given, the women fired, killing and wounding several. The remainder of the Indians fled, leaving their dead and wounded. One Indian who feigned death was killed by the boy. The burning of the settlement did not destroy Grandmother Walrod's wonderful oven, which was very substantially built, and as she was an expert horsewoman as well as a good baker, she used to ride back and forth, a distance of about two miles, to bake the bread for those staying at the Fort. On one occasion she was surprised to see a band of Indians coming in the distance. She quickly placed the loaves in sacks and, throwing them across the horse's shoulders, she raced back to the Fort. Upon arrival there it was discovered that the horse's shoulders were blistered from the heat of the bread. After peace was restored and new buildings replaced those which had been destroyed, Grandmother Walrod was at home caring for the Inn of which she was the hostess, the men being absent about their duties, and with her was only her little daughter Mary (afterwards the wife of Stephen Scriber). She was amazed to hear them tell of the burning of the settlement and the naming of a white man - a Tory - who joined in the destruction of their home."

A similar story about Elizabeth Catherine (Bowman) Walrath was printed in the March 23, 1930 edition of the Enterprise and News. It was in the text of a query by Elizabeth (Silverthorn) Schooley, also a descendant of Henry (here spelled) Walrath and Elizabeth Catherine Bowman. Mrs. Schooley referred to them as Hendrick and Catherine Walrath. Henry operated the ferry across the Mohawk River approximately two miles from Fort Plain. He was also a Justice of the Peace. He and Elizabeth were also Innkeepers.

The Margaret Reaney Memorial Library, St. Johnsville, has an extensive collection of articles from the St. Johnsville Enterprise and News. The card catalog of articles in the E & N cross-referenced by surname is available. Many of the articles have been photostated and placed in a Surname File collection. Jerome A. Walrath, January 1998.


Otillia Freundt Curring

Otillia Freundt, wife of Ludolph Curring, was packing the precious few of her belongings which she would be able to take when she and her husband were preparing to leave Europe for the American colonies. She decided to take her favorite hand-woven tablecloth, one that she considered her masterpiece. She was loath to leave her favorite rose as well. At the last minute, she dug up the rose and hid it in her prized tablecloth. When her husband learned of her stowaway, he, too, cared for the rose during the long voyage.

When they arrived in New York the rose was planted at West Camp, then in the Schoharie Valley and, finally, near the old Palatine Church. Slips were shared with friends, especially at weddings. It was, and may still be, customary in many farm communities to present the bride with a heifer to supply milk, cream and butter. Often, a starter of sour dough was also given. When Atelier's daughter, Johanna Elisabeth Curring married John Christopher Fox, a new tradition was born. She received a small moss rose bush to brighten her new door yard.

This custom continued for several generations until one exceptionally bitter winter when most of the bushes were frozen and the tradition was lost but the oral tradition continued. Children and grandchildren continued to look for the moss rose. One of the descendants who remained in the valley saw and admired a dainty, moss-covered, pink rosebud in the garden of Mrs. Margaret Zoller of Fort Plain. Mrs. Zoller told how the rosebush had grown in her grandmother's garden and recalled that it had been a gift from a member of the Snell family. As she told the story of how the moss rose had been carried across the Atlantic in a hand woven tablecloth, the young visitor experienced an overwhelming sense of happiness as she recognized that she had found Otillia's moss rose. Helen Van Patten, wife of Curtis Nellis, remembers the rose from her childhood. She noted that the leaves had a mossy looking underneath and the thorns were terrible but that the flowers had the most beautiful aroma. Helen found a Redoute print that she felt resembled the moss rose. The print identifies the rose as Rosa bifera Officinalis, Rosier des Perfumeurs. This, and other prints by Pierre Joseph Redoute (1750-1840) were reproduced in The Avon Calendar of Roses 1983. The prints are also currrently available in many stores that sell decorative items. Helen indicated that she had not seen any of Otillia's roses for years. Unfortunately, these old fashioned roses have given way to hybrids, but be on the look-out! You, too, may be lucky enough to locate one of Otillia's roses.

Schulman describes four general types of old fashioned roses. Two fit the description that Helen provided. Centifolias, also known as 'Cabbage Roses', "are lax, thorny, open bushes with large coarsely toothed foliage. Their blooms, which are very double and highly fragrant, open from distinctive globular buds..... Most famous among these are the Moss Roses..." Schulman also defines the Moss roses as a seperate category probably derived from the Centifolia and Damask Roses. The Moss Roses "differ from their parents in that their pedicels, sepals and buds are covered with exaggerated, glandular or 'fuzzy' growth which does, to a degree, resemble moss. This mossy growth exudes a resinous substance with a distinctive balsam scent." An example of the Moss Rose is the Rosa centifolia 'Muscosa Alba'.

Written and contributed to the Herkimer/Montgomery Counties GenWeb by Kathleen McLaughlin. Helen Nellis had asked Kathleen to do something with the old article for the Nellis Reunion this past summer. Thank you both!


Watkins, Margilynn Fox, "Atelier's Moss Rose", undated copy of pages 279-280 of New York Folklore Quarterly

Nellis, Helen Van Patten, 1996, Interview with Kathleen McLaughlin

Davis, Mary McDonnell Nellis, 1996, Interview with Kathleen McLaughlin

The Ariel Press, 1982, The Avon Calendar of Roses 1983.

Redoute, Pierre Joseph, early 19th Century Paintings of Josephine's roses

Schulman, S. Andrew , 1995, 1996, Web pages, Old-Fashioned Roses


Roxana Cook Rice: 1777 - 1852

When a Methodist Episcopal class was organized at Salisbury Center in 1826 by the Rev. John W. Wallace, Roxana and her husband, Moses Rice, were among the students. When a frame church was erected two years later, the Rices were there to help raise the church, said to have been the first building ever raised in Salisbury without whiskey.

Son Thomas A. Rice and his wife, Vienna Carr Rice, had moved to the neighboring town of Fairfield in 1827. On a visit to Salisbury in 1832, Thomas and Vienna were brought into the Methodist Church by the Rev. Henry Halstead. Roxanna was concerned about the lack of a Methodist Church in Fairfield village. She was tireless in her efforts to induce the Rev. Halstead to remedy the situation. Finally he accepted an appointment to preach in Fairfield, in the home of the only Methodist, Linus E. Ford, in 1833. A class was organized and of course, Thomas and Vienne Rice attended.

In 1836 the Methodists organized as the Fairfield Central Society of the Methodist Episcopal church. Thomas was one of the first trustees. A church was erected and dedicated in 1837. Thomas A. Rice became known as "Uncle Tommie", a devout Methodist, powerful in prayer and testimony. He served as a trustee of the Fairfield Academy and also the Medical College. Nine children were born to Thomas and Vienna Rice. Many attended Fairfield Academy and several moved west where they held positions of responsibility.

Roxanna lived long enough to see the growth of the Fairfield Methodist Church and its influence in the lives of her son and his family.

Information from Beers' History of Herkimer County, 1879 and the Herkimer Historical Society. Written by Jane Dieffenbacher, Fairfield Town Historian. More information about the Fairfield Methodist Episcopal Church, and other area churches, is in "This Green and Pleasant Land ".


From: Norway Tidings, Vol. 3, No. 4, April 1889.


The recent death of Abby Kelly brings to mind the following remarkable but true story:
In the latter part of Nov. 1843, Miss Kelly lectured five evenings in Norway village, on the subject of Slavery. A woman speaker in those days was a great novelty. The Old Church was crowded with hearers. Her ability, eloquence, and sarcasm had a wonderful influence, and converted many to abolitionism. One night an intelligent young man living four miles distant came to the meeting on horse back. The horse was securely tied under the church shed. The young man was so wrought by her address that he actually returned home on foot through the mud and darkness, not thinking of his horse until the next morning. The horse passed a night of fasting, and had showed his displeasure by pawing a big hole in the ground. From: Norway Tidings, Vol. 1, No. 2, January 1887.


Mrs. Lucy Kelly, widow of Eben Kelly living over in Salisbury, recently cut and made up a new dress for herself. Nothing strange about it, only the old lady is in her 94th year.

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Last Updated: 10/24/05
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