This history of the Schell family comes from a rare 1896 pamphlet and has been transcribed from the original and contributed by Carol and Charles Marston. The Schell brothers founded one of the most renowned early families of the Mohawk Valley. Their story as written by Mr. Denissen accurately reflects the times of the early settlers predating and during the American Revolution. The original spelling and punctuation have been maintained. For ease in reading, long passages have been broken up and are indicated by an *.
Researches after the Descendants of
John Christian Schell and John Schell
Pastor of St. Charles Church in Detroit, Michigan - 1896
I offer this pamphlet to the SCHELLS of America and to those connected with them by family ties. Anybody else will hardly be interested in reading this historical biography. I was moved to compile this genealogy, to save from oblivion historical facts, which may otherwise be lost to posterity. Such work, anyway, is quite to my liking. I do not claim this work to be complete, but I hope that, at some propitious time, some one will bring it nearer to perfection. I may have made some mistakes, the older members of the Schell family will be able to detect them; and I wish they inform me of the same, to enable me to make corrections. But I hope they will not be too rash in their condemnation, if they base their judgement upon certain books or manuscripts, which contain erroneous information. I have not been partial to any branch of the family, but I give what facts and dates I have obtained. I regret very much that more is not at my disposal. I have looked for more information, but it did not reach me and I have to give this to the press. It seems advisable not to wait any longer.
*To Mr. Robert A. Schell of Lexington, Mich; I am indebted for valuable information, and, in truth, he is greatly the cause that I have compiled this work. Mrs. Mary Amelia Jarvis, daughter of Daniel Schell and grandaughter of Henry Schell the twin, residing at present at Riverside, county of Riverside, California, has furnished me with abundant material from a reliable source. When young she has heard her grandfather and her grandmother, Henry Schell and Mary Moyer, recounting their stories, they residing at her father's home. Her own father is now dwelling with her family, and when she is not certain of some facts, she knows how to clear away doubts by refreshing her father's memory. She has the peculiar talent of doing things systematically, hence her information is clear and to the point. I ask of all the Schells to send to my address further information, concerning this matter; it might be used later for a new edition, to be compile by myself or somebody else. Christian Denissen, 287 Baldwin Ave., Detroit Michigan.
In the beginning of the 18th century, a Mr. SCHELL was living on the Rhine, in the city of Baden-Baden, in the grandduchy of Baden, Germany. Amongst his other children, he had two sons, Hannes Krist or John Christian Schell and Hannes or John Schell. These two brothers, in their early manhood, left their parents and their home and came to America.
That country which is drained by the Mohawk river, was occupied from time immemorial by the Mohawk Indians, as they were the fiercest, the head of the confederacy of the Five Nations or Iroquois. This was a beautiful country. The Dutch or Hollanders had penetrated it for the purpose of trade, from the Hudson river, and Fort Orange, now Albany, was built by Henry Christiaans, in 1614. Gradually they pushed their settlements up the Mohawk river on the rich bottom lands, as far as Caughnawaga. Beyond that point the first white settlers were Germans who occupied the district known as the "German Flats." About the year 1709, three thousand Germans came over from the Palatinate or Rhenish Bavaria and from Baden. Some of them settled in Pennsylvania, the large majority of them ascended the Hudson river and found their way into the rich valley of Schoharie-Kill, about the year 1713, and from there to the German Flats, which place was settled as early as 1720. The settlers were industrious and prospered in their new homes. Accessions from their relation and friend in the Old Country increased their number to a respectable district. All the colonial settlements West and South-West of Schenectady formed the county of Tryon, set off from Albany county, organized in 1772 and named after William Tryon then Governor of the Province. This county was later on subdivided and part of it became Herkimer county named after General Nicolas Herkimer who fell there in battle in 1777, and had his home in that locality.
The Schell brothers, having arrived in America, made their way to the German Flats or the Mohawk Valley, with the intention of settling permanently among their countrymen of that district. They bought farms joining and located upon them. Here they found their partners for their new homes. John Schell married Barbara _____, and John Christian selected Maria _____, who seemed to have been patterned after himself for coolness and bravery. Both had large families: John Christian Schell had three daughters and five sons, and in due time each of his sons raised five sons to add to the desirable citizens of this new country. The descendants of John Christian Schell moved to Canada and most of them later to Michigan, Illinois, California, Australia and New Zealand. John Schell had four sons and three daughters; his descendants remained mostly in New York state. Besides his own family John Schell and his wife Barbara found it convenient to adopt and educate a little girl, Mary Moyer, whose parents had died when she was two years old. She afterwards, became the wife of John Christian Schell's son, Henry. Her subsequent life and the education she imparted to her children, prove that she had acquired great domestic virtues at the home of John Schell.
John Christian Schell took up his residence four miles north of the village of Herkimer, at a place still called "Schell's Bush", in Tryon county, state of New York, where he became the owner of a large farm which he cultivated with the usual success of the industrious German. He married about the year 1755. He must have arrived in this county in the early part of the Fifties; allowing that he was about twenty-five or thirty years when he married, (the common age for men to marry), he must have been born about the years 1725-1730. Supposing he was born in 1730, he was fifty-two years old in 1782 when he was killed, at an age in which he yet showed the full vigor of his manhood. His wife Maria, in all probability, was born in the Mohawk Valley; supposing her a little younger that her husband, she must have been born about the year 1735; her later career as a mother would bear out this supposition. Their oldest child was born in 1756 and their youngest in 1773; five sons and three daughters blessed the family.
*John Christian Schell prospered in his American home; the hardship and reverses concomitant with a new country, only helped to bring out his superior qualities. He had received in his boyhood a liberal education, and his sons remembered well and told their descendants, that they saw him often busy with his books and papers; they not having the same advantages of schooling in the Mohawk Valley as their father from Baden, were not interested at the time, but regretted afterwards that his papers had not been preserved. These documents together with the famous silver mounted tomahawk, of which we will speak later, probably perished by the flames, when sometime during the Revolutionary war, the Schell homestead burned down. John Christian Schell being a good scholar, a man honest in his purposes, persevering in his undertakings, plucky and brave in danger, was very much respected by his neighbors. He was the leading man of the district; it is natural then that he took a conspicuous part when the war of Independence was raging.
Unfortunately, when the American colonies reached out for freedom and independence, Tryon county, which numbered at that time about 10,000 inhabitants, was under the influence of a few rich and powerful loyalists who did their best to hold the inhabitants of the Mohawk valley loyal to the English Crown. In this they succeeded for a short time, but the American fever of independence and liberty became so contagious, that Tryon county also publicly and strenuously espoused the cause of the so-called "Rebels." To assure the Continental Congress that they were faithful to the American cause, they, through their representatives, on the 18th of May, 1775, wrote a letter to the committee of Albany, in which they vowed that the country could be sure of their support, promising to keep down all loyalists in their district and to send deputies to the Provincial Congress as soon as possible and vouching that , if Tryon county had not as yet representatives, that they were not the less attached to American Liberty. "In a work", they wrote, "it is our fixed resolution to support and carry into execution everything recommended by the Continental Congress and to be free or die."
No serious hostilities occurred that year in Tryon county; but when in January, 1776, the appearance of loyalist soldiers became threatening, General Herkimer ordered out all the militia. They were paraded on the ice on the Mohawk river. Amongst them in active service, were John Schell and Christian Schell, Jr. The year passed on comparatively quiet. The Declaration of Independence on the 4th of July was hailed with joy. The American Patriots had calculated that the rich country of the Mohawk would provide largely for the feeding of the armies. Tryon county was well able to assume a great share of that responsibility; but the malicious loyalists took advantage of this to sow discontent in Tryon county, trying to make the citizens see the liberalities of the benignant English government and representing that the American Patriots were only spoilators, adventurers and malcontents. The scheme of the loyalists only widened the chasm which existed between the two opposing parties. Tryon county remained true to the cause of liberty.
The next winter England made great preparations for an extensive campaign to subdue the rebellious Colonies. In 1777 the war raged in dead earnest; Tryon county from that time on, shared in its vicissitudes. In that year General Herkimer, a favorite of the Mohawk valley settlers, was fatally wounded in one of the skirmishes in Tryon county. The friends of independence had an exasperating time; they had to contend not only with the well drilled English armies, but more and still and continually with the bloodthirsty Indians and the perfidious tories. Had it not been for the inflexibility, intrepidity and love of independence of the colonists, the American cause would have been lost amongst the various difficulties they had to contend with. The English campaign then proved a failure. The mother country grew tired of sending her best men here to accomplish nothing and furnishing supplies to colonies from which she expected large revenues. And still with dogged sullen-ness, the English government kept on harassing the American colonists. Their policy at the North was to divide their own forces into small detachments and trouble the border settlements at as many different points as possible, thus distracting the attention of the people, and by allowing them neither a sense of security nor repose, rendering them disgusted with the protracted struggle. Tory officers were everywhere found leading bands of marauding Indians to plunder and massacre the colonists. The Americans had built several forts in different parts of the country. At the German Flats, Fort Dayton was erected in 1776, named in honor of Colonel Dayton.
*With present mode of warfare, the military forts did not prove sufficient to resist the attacks of the enemy and shelter the colonists. In different localities the settlers clubbed together and built their own forts to serve as a refuge to the neighborhood in case of an attack. These forts or houses were usually built of hewn timber; the first story had no windows, but several loopholes through which those within, could fire upon the enemy. The second story projected over the first, two or three feet; through which the persons within could fire upon or cast down missiles upon the assailants, if they approached the house to force an entrance. The whole building was so constructed that it could withstand a siege from those plundering freebooters. Arms and ammunition were kept close at hand. The whole country waas constantly on the alert to watch for sudden attacks, and if danger seemed eminent, the people would retire to their forts to be prepared for results. John Christian Schell, of an independent character and having ample means, built one of these forts upon his farm for himself and family, and he laid in a supply of arms and ammunition.
Notwithstanding all the precautions the Patriots had taken, the sacrifices that they had cordially made; notwithstanding their readiness to risk their lives at any time for the freedom and independence of their country, it must be conessed that as the war proceeded, the outlook grew darker, and the spring of 1781 may well be counted as the darkest period of the revolution. The Mohawk valley had suffered more than any other district of the country. It was most frequently invaded and overrun; for seven long years, were its towns and villages, its numerous settlements and isolated inhabitants, fallen upon by an untiring and relentless enemy, until, towards the close of the war, the appearance of the whole district was that of widespread, heart sickening and universal desolation. In no other section of the confederacy were so many campaigns performed, so many battles fought, so many dwellings burnt, or so many murders committed.
John Schell, the brother of John Christian, had been for a long time in the service of the American army: he was wounded in some battle and disabled for further service. He made his way home ragged and literally almost naked. When he reached his family he was not able to support his trousers and carried them in his hand. He at least escaped with his life, but his brother John Christian, was destined for a worse fate.
In the summer of 1781, the massacres and incendiaries, instigated by the loyalists and executed by the freebooters and Indians, were so numerous, that most of the inhabitants of "Schell's Bush" had taken refuge in Fort Dayton, four miles distant; but JOHN CHRISTIAN SCHELL, not of a disposition to fear, trusted in his own fort and remained with his family around the premises, attending to his usual work. His son Christian was yet in service in the American army; the only assistance he could rely upon were his sons Denis and Frederick: the twins Henry and Mark being too young to be of much avail in a serious attack. The tories had planned the destruction of Schell's fort, and knowing that it was substantially built and well calculated for a defense, they fitted out a numerous and desperate band of assailants. They lay in ambush in the vicinity of Schell's farm, waiting for a favorable opportunity to make the attack. John Schell and his sons, who were cutting peas, saw them watching. It being somewhat rainy and they being nearly out of provisions, quit work and went to the fort, two miles distant, where Mrs. John Schell and the small children of the family were harbored during these perilous times.
* The next day they returned from the fort and were delayed in going to work by the killing of a large bear which had left his haunts in the woods on the account of the presence of the numerous tories and Indians. John Schell and his sons were just outside the barnyard, over the fence, when they saw, early in the afternoon, the tories and Indians running towards the corn-crib on John Christian Schell's farm. The twins, Henry and Mark Schell, accompanied by the family dog, had gone to the corn-crib in the fields, to bring a corn fan home. The Indians headed them off upon their return. One of the boys was captured at the crib; the other one, holding the enemy somewhat at bay through the dog, ran for home and succeeded in reaching the barn- yard fence, but the large dog who had kept between the boy and the Indian during the pursuit, jumped the fence first and the Indian captured the boy whilst he was getting over the high fence; then holding the boy before him, he backed away out of reach of gunshot. The twin boys who were eleven years old, were now prisoners in the hands of the enemy. This was the opening of the famous battle at Schell's Bush.
*At two o'clock in the afternoon of the sixth of August, 1781, Donald McDonald, one of the Scotch refugees who fled from Johnstown, suddenly made his appearance at the head of a band of sixty-six tories and Indians. The celebrated traitors Empie and Kasselman were with the tories. John Christian Schell and his sons were at work in the fields, but reached their fort in spite of the endeavors of the assailants. They barricaded the strong door and were ready for desperate resistance. From that time on the battle commenced and lasted until dark. The Schells by their galling fire, kept the enemy at a distance. Mrs. Maria Schell, as brave as the men, loaded the pieces for their continual use. McDonald attempted several times to set fire to the building, but each time he was repulsed. The stubborn Scotchman procured himself a crowbar and alone attempted to force the door; but Schell directed his blunderbuss upon him and McDonald, receiving a shot in the leg, was disabled for further action. The assailants being at a respectable distance, Schell opened the door quickly and jerked him in, a prisoner. The besiegers being so numerous and the siege being so protracted, Schell's ammunition began to run low, but his prisoner McDonald was amply provided and had to surrender his cartridges to have them fired upon his comrades. The work of Schell and his sons had told upon the enemy and several were killed and wounded. They drew off for a respite.
*This gave the Schell family some time for a much needed rest. Being moreover convinced that now, when they had their leader as prisoner, the enemy would not burn the fort, they ceased firing. Schell went upstairs and sang a religious hymn. The enemy soon rallied and made a desperate effort to carry the fort by assault. Rushing up the walls, five of them stuck the muzzles of their guns through the loopholes to compel the Schells to surrender; but Mrs. Schell frustrated their daring attempt: with an ax she struck and bent the barrels of the guns and ruined every musket. The Schells drove the enemy off to a distance. It was just getting dark. Schell ran up to the second story and yelled to his wife in a loud voice, that Captain Small was coming to the rescue. To deceive his assailants, he exclaimed still louder: "Captain Small, march your company round upon this side of the house. Captain Getman, you had better wheel your men off to the left, and come up upon that side." There were no troops coming, but Schell's directions were given with such precision and such apparent earnestness, that his stratagem succeeded.
* Night coming on, the enemy fled to the woods, taking with them the twins, Henry and Mark, as prisoners. The wounded McDonald was left with some provisions and given possession of the stronghold that he had so desperately endeavored to capture, and the Schell family set out for Fort Dayton, where they arrived safely. A few of the Indians lingered about the Schell premises, to ascertain what had become of their leader, and finding no opposition or danger they ventured in and found McDonald in a condition unfit to be taken along upon their retreat. They left word with McDonald for Schell, that if he would be kind to their leader, they would see to it that his captive boys would be well taken care of. The next day Captain Small removed McDonald to the fort, where his wounded leg was amputated but on account of loss of blood, he died in a few hours. When McDonald was captured, he wore a silvermounted tomahawk which had thirty scalp notches. This proves well enough that he was a fit leader of tories and savages. The numerous descendants of Schell have often looked for this brilliant souvenir of their ancestor's bravery, but up to date, this trophy seems lost.
* The enemy left eleven killed and six wounded on the battlefield and they took twelve of their wounded away with them, nine of whom died before they reached Canada. The Schell family escaped without a scratch, his two boys were captured, it is true, but this was on account of the sudden attack. The result of the battle shows conclusively that Schell had his fort well prepared for more than common emergencies and that his strategy and coolness fitted him to be a leader in arduous projects. When danger seemed removed, Schell and his family went back from fort Dayton to their own castle. They made the necessary repairs, procured fresh ammunition and held themselves ready for a new attack. They lamented very much at the loss of the twins, the pets of the family. In the beginning they had hope, that the boys might find a chance to escape and return home, but as time went on, they became more sure that Henry and Mark were forever lost to them. The abduction of his favorite twins irritated JOHN CHRISTIAN SCHELL in such a manner that he promised a warm reception to any tory or Indian who would venture near his place. The enemy on the other hand, sustaining a loss of dead and wounded of nearly half of their forces, i.e. 29 out of 66, swore vengeance against Schell and his family, and clamored for their lives. Enemies kept lurking around the Schell farm. At one time they surprised Eve Schell, one of John Christian's daughters, in the woods, at some distance from the house. They scalped her and left her for dead. A pipestem attached to a tomahawk had become fastened in her head; when she regained consciousness, she extracted the obnoxious stem and struggled home. She recovered and afterwards married Mr. Plank and became the happy mother of children.
Christian Schell Jr. had been a soldier in the American armies for some years; he had filled an honorable place in its ranks, having inherited the characteristics of his father, he had conducted himself bravely. He had shared with his comrades the hardships and privations of the campaigns. He returned home in the summer of 1782. Not a long time elapsed before he saw some more of the war.
In July 1782, the enemy had found a good opportunity to make a sudden attack upon John Christian Schell and his sons. The tories and Indians concealed themselves in the standing wheat, whilst Schell and his sons were at work at no great distance from their house. The enemy took good aim and fired one volley; Schell and his son Denis were fatally wounded, and his son Frederick received a shot in the thigh. The father called upon his sons not to allow the savages to scalp him. The brave boys kept the enemy at bay and would not retreat. At a distance of one mile and a half, there was a fortified blockhouse, where his neighbors had taken refuge. They heard the firing and immediately hastened to the rescue. The tories and Indians were put to flight. John Christian Schell was removed to his fort, where the brave pioneer expired three days later, surrounded by his griefstricken family and many of his neighbors. Denis died the ninth day. Sad was the funeral when the remains of father and son were laid to rest, and desolate was the family. Frederick Schell who had his thighbone splintered, not broken, recovered from his wounds, but he showed lameness during the remainder of his life. The armed forces of the Schells were so reduced in number, that they were not able to hold the fort against the repeated attacks of the enemy. The revengeful tories and Indians sometime afterwards set fire to Schell's fort. Then perished the rare books and papers of John Christian Schell, and the famous McDonald tomahawk probably disappeared at that occasion.
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