Read Before The



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



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.

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