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See Also: Schenectady in the Revolutionary War

A History of Schenectady During the Revolution:
Chapter II: Schenectady

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[This information is from pp. 4-10 of A History of Schenectady During the Revolution by Willis T. Hanson, Jr. (Brattleboro, VT: E. L. Hildreth & Co., 1916). It is in the Schenectady Collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at Schdy R 974.744 H25, and copies are also available for borrowing.]

The approximately twenty-four hundred souls who, in 1773, composed the population (1) of Schenectady, were chiefly of Low Dutch origin. Among them, however, were numbered some Irish and not a few English, (2) for there had been many immigrants from New England, while British regulars and New England militia had for nearly a century garrisoned (3) the fort, and discharged soldiers mixing with the population had married Dutch wives and become settlers. The English element had moreover been augmented (4) from time to time by those who came direct from their native land to take up their residence here because of the mercantile advantages offered.

Commercially, Schenectady was admirably situated, for through it ran the Great Highway leading westward and here became navigable the Mohawk River.

From its first settlement Schenectady had been primarily a trading community and early it became an important and flourishing town, a transfer point for the products of the West to be carried by wagon to Albany, or shipments of supplies from the older settlements to be borne westward by boat.

"According to our conjecture," wrote (5) Richard Smith, who visited Schenectady in 1769, "the Town counts about 300 Dwelling Houses besides Out Houses, standing in 3 Principal Streets (6) nearly East and West; these are crossed by 4 or 5 other Streets. (7) Few of the Buildings are contiguous," continues the Journal, "some of them are constructed in the old Dutch Taste (8) generally of Wood but sometimes of Brick, and there may be 6 or 7 elegant Mansions (9) without including a large Dutch Church (10) with a Town Cloc, a Presbyterian Meeting House (11) and a neat English Church (12) now finishing off, containing a particular Pew for Sir William Johnson (13) adorned with a handsome Canopy supported by Pilasters. There are no Wharves but a public Landing or Two at the Ends of the Streets where the Batteaux bring the Peltry and wheat from above. These Batteaux which are built here (14) are very large, each end sharp so that they may be rowed either way. The townspeople are supplyed altogether with Beef (15) and Pork from New England, most of the Meadows being used for Wheat, Peas and other Grain; however there are certain choice Grass Meadows about the Place and yet at the End we entered, the Sandy Pine Land approaches within 300 Yards of the Buildings."

Jabez Maud Fisher, the son of a wealthy Philadelphia shipowner, who came through Schenectady some four years later, places (16) the number of houses at four hundred. He makes special note of the "vast deal of fine Meadow and arable ground in the neighborhood," of the "very considerable and profitable trade carried on with the Indians," and further adds that "there are several 100 boats go from this place to Niagara (17) and some to Detroit (18) loaded with dry and wet goods."

The town was surrounded by a stockade of upright pickets in the shape of a parallelogram having two gates, one opening to the east and one to the north. (19) This stockade was flanked (20) at intervals by redoubts or blockhouses and at the period of which we write enclosed (21) an area bounded on the north and west by the river, on the south by a line starting at the river and running twenty-eight feet south of State Street southeasterly to the present location of the New York Central depot, and on the east by a line from this point intersecting with the river at a point not far from the foot of North Street.

In the center of an open space (two hundred and sixty-four by two hundred feet), at the junction of Front, Ferry and Green Streets, stood the fort, the south wall extending across Ferry Street three feet south of the north corner of the present rectory of St. George's Church. (22) This fort was erected in 1735, and was built half of masonry and half of hewn timbers piled one upon the other above the masonry (23) to a height of twenty feet. (24) It was capable of holding from two to three hundred men. (25) The four curtains, which, by the way, contained no loopholes through which to fire the few cannon (26) of which the town boasted, were about seventy-six feet long each and the four bastions or blockhouses which stood at the corners were about twenty-four feet square. (27) The fort was not encircled by a ditch, as was sometimes customary, and its entrance was through a large swing gate raised like a drawbridge. (28)

Both the stockades and the fort were, at the beginning of the Revolution, wholly out of repair, (29) having been suffered to go into decay during the period of peace following the close of the French and Indian War.

While it seems unbelievable that during the stirring times of 1776 any means of defense, however meager, would be deliberately removed, — unless, perhaps, it had reached such a stage of decay as to be rendered useless or in order that more adequate protection might replace it, — there is evidence (30) to show that during this year the "Old Fort" was removed. Whether or not such was the case the writer cannot definitely ascertain, but he is rather inclined to hold the opinion (31) that the fort was permitted to remain until after the war. This opinion is based upon the statements (32) of certain soldiers who are quite positive in their assertions that the defenses of Schenectady included a fortress, which with the other works was guarded during the entire period of the war.

The fact that on June 23, 1780, an act (33) was passed by the Legislature enabling the inhabitants of Schenectady to erect a fortress does not preclude the possibility of the old fort having been retained, for indeed the limited facilities for defense offered by this fort would quite justify the more extensive picket fort (34) suggested by Governor Clinton, which was subsequently (35) erected.

Notes

  1. Colonel Henry B. Livingston, in his manuscript journal of the Canadian expedition, places the number of houses in Schenectady in 1775 as three hundred. This is the same number as noted by Richard Smith in 1769. The Marquis de Chastelleux states that eight people were the average number residing in one house. The writer is inclined to believe that the estimate of Jabez Maud Fisher of four hundred houses in 1773 is too high and he has consequently determined the population of the town proper at this period on the basis of three hundred houses.
  2. Reverend William Andrews, rector of St. George's Church, reported to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel on March 15, 1771, that "about 80 grown up persons" regularly attended his church.
  3. This was mostly previous to 1754. After the close of the Old French war few troops were stationed here. Jonathan Pearson.
  4. Daniel Campbell came to Schenectady in 1754, John Duncan in 1755, Alexander Campbell in 1762, while the later well-known firm of Phyn & Ellice was in business in 1768.
  5. Richard Smith, A Tour of Four Great Rivers, p. 22.
  6. Front Street, Brewer's or Niskayuna (now Union) Street, and the old road to Albany (now Albany Street).
  7. The Vrooman map of 1768 shows streets corresponding to the following of today: Washington Avenue (then Lion, afterwards Washington Street), Ferry Street, Church Street, Water Street, Mill Lane, Center Street, Jefferson Street, and North Street.
  8. The old Abraham Yates house, built about 1730, now No. 109 Union Street, is an excellent example of the Dutch style of architecture.
  9. Possibly he refers to the old Campbell mansion, now standing on the northeast corner of State and Church Streets; the John Glen mansion, now No. 58 Washington Avenue, or the old Ten Eyck mansion on the northeast corner of Governor's Lane and Front Street, at one time the residence of Governor Joseph C. Yates. These houses have all been remodeled.
  10. The Dutch Reformed Church, erected in 1734 and demolished in 1814, stood on the site of the present church, the corner of Union and Church Streets.
  11. This seems to have been a rented "meeting house" the location of which cannot now be ascertained. It was not until October 12, 1769, that a lot was purchased for the erection of a permanent house of worship. The building, completed by the end of the year 1773, had a steeple and turret for a bell on which the members of St. George's looked with envious eyes, their church having neither.
  12. St. George's, the erection of which was commenced in 1759.
  13. Sir William not only personally contributed liberally to the fund for the erection of the church, but obtained many contributions from his friends throughout the Colonies.
  14. Boat building was for many years one of the principal industries of Schenectady, nearly all the boats used on the Mohawk being built here. The yards were along the river front extending from the present Scotia bridge to North Street. The batteaux were adopted as substitutes for the bark canoes, which were too light to bear the increasing loads of merchandise. They were built of white pine boards, and were from twenty to twenty-five feet long by three and a half wide in the center, capable of carrying from two to five tons. The batteaux were generally manned by three or four men and propelled by poles, with the auxiliary of ropes pulled by men on shore when being forced over the rapids in the river. Several batteaux generally traveled together so that the batteaumen could lend aid to one another. These batteaux were in general use until 1797, when, with the completion of the enterprise known as the Inland Lock Navigation Company, they gave way to the larger Durham boats.
  15. This sold at 5d. and 6d. per pound. Richard Smith.
  16. A manuscript copy of his journal is in the possession of the Herkimer County Historical Society.
  17. The route taken was up the Mohawk to near Fort Stanwix (Rome), where was a carry to the waters of Wood Creek; through Oneida Lake into the Oswego River and to Oswego on Lake Ontario. From Oswego to Niagara the merchandise was sometimes conveyed in the same boats and sometimes in sloops.
  18. Reverend William Andrews reported that his church was better attended in the winter than in the summer, for when the Mohawk was open several of his congregation who were Indian traders or batteaumen proceeded in their boats to "Fort Detroit and even to Mishillimackanac in sloop which [was] reckoned upward of 1000 miles from [Schenectady]." In making this trip a further carry was necessary around the falls at Niagara to Chippewa.
  19. The Sexagenary, p. 12.
  20. Documents Relating to the Colonial History of New York, X, 677.
  21. Jonathan Pearson, History of the Schenectady Patent, p. 306.
  22. Ibid., p. 318.
  23. Documents Relating to the Colonial History of New York, X, 677.
  24. Jonathan Pearson, History of the Schenectady Patent, p. 318, note.
  25. Documents Relating to the Colonial History of New York, X, 677.
  26. The two largest came to be known as the "Lady Washington" and the "Long Nine Pounder." These guns were placed in the streets so as to command the gates. Jonathan Pearson.
  27. Jonathan Pearson, History of the Schenectady Patent, p. 316.
  28. Documents Relating to the Colonial History of New York, X, 677.
  29. Documents Relating to the Colonial History of New York, VIII, 451.
  30. Jonathan Pearson, History of the Schenectady Patent, p. 318, note.
  31. This opinion is shared by Professor Pearson who, although he makes little point of it, states (History of the Schenectady Patent, p. 332) that "after the close of the Revolutionary War the defenses of the village were never repaired, or renewed: — the old fort was removed and the land sold."
  32. "This place [Schenectady] was surrounded with pickets and had a fortress and other works of defense which were guarded during the whole war." Pension Office Records, John Henry R 4891.
    "This place [Schenectady] was during [the] war surrounded with pickets and blockhouses and had a fortress and other works of defense were constantly erecting during [the] war." Pension Office Records, Bartholomew Clute S 12499.
  33. Public Papers of George Clinton, V, 886.
  34. Ibid.
  35. Work was probably started soon after the act was passed. There were on the east side of the picket fort (Pension Office Records, James Barhydt S 12948) seven redoubts (Pension Office Records, Wessel Cornu W 1029. Public Papers of George Clinton, VI, 715) which were used as guardhouses. Eighty-four men composed the guard, twelve being assigned to each redoubt (Pension Office Records, Wessel Cornu W 1029).

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See Also: Schenectady in the Revolutionary War

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