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SCHENECTADY DIGITAL HISTORY ARCHIVE

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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 21: Settlement of Schenectady, 1661-1662.

[This information is from Vol. I, pp. 313-325 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. Some images have been relocated to the area in the text where they are discussed. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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Van Curler's letter to Governor Stuyvesant petitioning for a grant of the Groote Vlachte — The Mohawk grant of Schenectady lands in the original deed in Dutch and its translation — Objection to settlement — Van Curler's compromise agreement of 1663 signed by the fourteen Schenectady proprietors. (313)

The project of settling Schenectady was probably one which was developed during several years — perhaps during a longer period. Indeed, it may have been in Van Curler's mind from the day when he first set eyes on this "most beautiful land".

Throughout the period of three years of negotiation, purchase, apportionment, settlement and patent, Arent Van Curler was the moving spirit and leading figure, which fact justifies his proud title of the "founder of Schenectady," the great present day electrical city of over 100,000 people.

Having agreed upon the place and plan of settlement on the Mohawk River at Schenectady, Arent Van Curler and his fourteen associates proceeded to select the land they wished to acquire and then began to negotiate with the Mohawks for the sale of the property. Having completed their preliminary arrangements with the Indian owners, Van Curler's next move was to petition Director General Petrus Stuyvesant and his council for a patent for the Schenectady lands. The fourteen associates, or part of them, proceeded to plant crops on the Schenectady flats in the spring of 1661, when some settlers probably located there as they would not plant crops and leave them to the mercy of the bos loopers and Indians.

Van Curler brought the matter of the Schenectady settlement before Director Stuyvesant in a letter addressed to the Dutch governor under date of June 18, 1661, as follows:

"Right Honorable Sir,

"My Lord.

"When last at Manhatans I informed your honor that there were some friends and well wishers, who were well inclined with your Honor's knowledge and approbation to take possession of and till the Groote Vlachte well known to your worship; whereto six or eight families are already inclined, and for which your Honor promised me a warrant authorising us to purchase said lands, but by reason of your Honor's daily occupations nothing came of it. So then your Honor promised to send it later but I am persuaded the daily cares of your Honor's government have driven it from your Honor's remembrance.

"Truly the way is now open, the savages being inclined to abandon the land for a moderate price, the more so as trade is so slack and meagre. Hence it is the wish of our friends to dispatch the bearer of this, Philip Hendrickse Brouwer, to refresh your Honor's remembrance, for as much as it is high time, (if your Honor please) that the people provide themselves with hay and fodder for their beasts and like to lay out the road thither.

"Please not, your Honor, distrust the people as is generally done here, by the common folks, nor doubt that one loaf will last till another be gained.

"So, then it will be better to provide betimes, to seize good fortune, for afterwards it may be too late. Doubtless as your Honor is likewise a lover of agriculture, your Honor will yield to the just request of the people; the money for the purchase of the aforesaid land they themselves will furnish temporarily and until it shall be otherwise ordered by your Honor.

"Finally I pray your Honor to be pleased to favor the people's good intention so far as possible, and conclude by commending your Honor to God's grace with the wish for a long and happy administration, and further I remain ever

"Sir

Your Honor's most humble Servant,

"A. Van Curler.

"Rensselaerwyck,

The 18th June, 1661.

"P. S. If your Honor falls short three or four Muds of oats as feed for your Honor's horses, please command me to supply your Honor with the same from my small store.

Your Honor's servant,

A. V. Curler."

The Director General and Council took the following action on Van Curler's petition, June 23, 1661.

"The letter of Arent Van Curler, being presented and read on the 18th June, containing in substance a request by him and a few other persons for the large plain situated to the back of Fort Orange toward the interior, for the purpose of cultivation, and consent to purchase the same from the original proprietors and make a settlement there, etc.; which being maturely considered, the Director General and Council resolved to consent to it; provided that the said lands on being purchased from the native proprietors be as usual transferred to the Director General and Council aforesaid as representatives of the Lords Directory of the Privileged West India Company; and that whatever the petitioners shall pay for the aforesaid lands to the original proprietors, shall in due time be returned to them or be discounted to them against the tenths."

On the 18th of July, 1661, Arent Van Curler and his associates appeared before the Council and petitioned for the privilege to purchase the Schenectady lands and also for a patent to cover the territory involved.

The names of the petitioners are here given: Arent Van Curler, Philip Hendrickson Brouwer, Alexander Lindsay Glen, Sweer Teunise Van Velsen, Simon Volckertsen Veeder, Peter Adriance Van Woggelum, (also known as Sagermakeleck), Gerrit Bancker, William Teller, Bastian De Winter, Pieter Jacobse Borsboom, Pieter Danielse Van Olinda, Jan Barentse Wemp, Jacques Cornelise Van Slyck. Bastian De Winter appeared also as attorney for Catalyn De Vos, widow of Arent Andries Bratt.

The deed from the Indians to Van Curler was drawn, signed and executed on the 27th July, following, as herewith shown.

Deed from the Indians for Schenectady and Vicinity

Before this authority was received by Van Curler at Fort Orange, a disastrous freshet on the Mohawk River covered the Schenectady flats with water and ruined the newly-planted crops. A few days later, on June 26, 1661, a still greater flood completed the damage of the first. Pearson says it "forced the inhabitants to quit their dwellings and fly with their cattle for safety on the adjoining hills. Incalculable damage was caused by these eruptions. The wheat and grain were all prostrated and had to be cut mostly for fodder, affording scarcely seed sufficient for the next spring."

The foregoing would indicate that at least some of the settlers of Schenectady had moved to that place early in the spring and had built houses and planted crops. The evidence is strongly in favor of the first settlement here having been made in the spring of 1661, although, for some reason, 1662 is the generally accepted date. Van Curler himself says that "six or eight families are already inclined" which probably means that six or eight families were already settled at Schenectady in 1661.

Despite this disaster, the Schenectady pioneers held to their plan of settlement and, in the following month (on July 27th) secured the following deed from the chieftains representing the Mohawks. While the Mohawks granted Glen's Scotia lands in 1655, the Schenectady deed, given by the Mohawks in 1661, is the earliest existing document, covering such a grant, to actual settlers of the Mohawk Valley. It is here given in full in the original Dutch together with its translation.

"Compareerde voor mij Johannes La Montagne ten dienste vande Groet Wesendische Compagnie door de Glen Racden Van Nieu Nederlant geadmitteert, Viers Direct en Commies op de fortss. Orangie en Dorp Beverwyk, eenige Oversten vant Maquaes Lant genaempt Cantuquo, Sanareetse, Aiadane, Sodackdrasse eigenaers van een seeckere stuck Landts genaempt Op duyts de Groote Vlackten Liggende achter de fort Orangie tusschen de selve en het Maquaes Landt de welcke Verklaeren gecedeert en getransporteert te hebben gelyck sij seedeeren en transporteeren by deesen in reele en Actuelle possessie en sijgondom ten behoeve Van Sr Arent Van Corlaer Ret gemelde stuck Landts of groote Vlackten op Wildts geneamdt Schonowe (is) in syn begrip en circonferentie met syn geboomte en killen voor een seecker getal of Cargosoenen voor welck de transportanton bekennen sattisfactie van gehadt te hebben renonceerende voor nu en altyt op alle eygendom en pretensie die sij op het gemelds stuck Landts tot nutoe gehadt hebben, beloovende het te bevryden voor all pretensie die andere Wilden soude hebben konnen. Actum in de fortss. Orangie den 27 July A, 1661, in presentie Marten Mouris en Willem Montagne daertee versocht.

dit ist merck Van Cantuquo The Bear

dit ist merck Aiadane

dit ist merck van Sonareetsie

M. Mou(ris)
William de La Montagne.

In Keunisse van mij La Montagne, V. Dr en Commies opt fortss. Orangie

Translation

"Appeared before me, Johannes La Montagne, in the service of the Privileged West India Company by the Director-General and Council of New Netherland admitted vice-director and clerk (commies) at Fort Orange and village of Beverwyck, certain sachems of the Mohawk's land named Cantuquo, Sonareetsie, Aiadane, Sodackdrasse, owners of a certain piece of land named in Dutch the Groote Vlachte, and lying behind Fort Orange, between the same and the Mohawk's lands, who declare that they have granted, transferred, as by these presents they do grant and transfer in real and actual possession and ownership to the behoof of Mr. Arent Van Corlaer, the said piece of land or Great Flat by the Indians named Schonowe, in its compass of circumference, with its woods and kils for a certain number of cargoes, for which the grantors acknowledge they have had satisfaction; renouncing herenceforth and forever all ownership and pretensions, which they to said pieces of land heretofore have had and promising to free it from all pretensions which other Indians may have. Done in Fort Orange the 27th July, anno 1661, in presence of Marten Mouris and Willem Montagne hereto invited.

"This is the Mark x of Cantuquo,

"This is the Mark x of Aiadne,

"This is the Mark x of Sonareetsie.

M. Mou(ris)
William de La Montagne,"

"Acknowledged before me, La Montagne V. D., and Clerk at Fort Orange."

The mark of Cantuquo to the above instrument was a bear; that of Aiadane, a turtle, and of Sonareetsie, a wolf, denoting the clan or family to which each belonged. The true name of the witness to this instrument, who signed as Martin Mourisse, was Martin Maurice Van Slyck, brother of Jacques Cornelise Van Slyck, both subsequently proprietors, and among the first original settlers of Schenectady. The mother of both was a Mohawk chieftain's daughter. They were the children of Cornelis Antonisen Van Slyck, the great Indian interpreter. They were born at the principal Mohawk castle of Canajoharie. Jacques was born about 1640, and Martin a year or two later.

"The petition, bearing the most oppressive conditions, as will be seen herein, was granted July 27, and here was staged a drama — the patent wrangle — that held the boards through a period of one hundred and thirty-seven years, or until 1798. It probably has no parallel in the history of settlements and town building in the United States. The distress, the loss and heart-burning trouble from the various sources attending this initial undertaking in independent building and being in the little local colony constitutes a tragic, yet droll chapter in the history." (Monroe, "Schenectady, Ancient and Modern.")

On the sixth day of April, 1662, Arent Van Curler again addressed the Director General and Council stating that, in accordance with their resolution of the 23d June last, he and his associates had purchased and taken possession of the Great Flat behind Fort Orange and were now "engaged in constructing houses, mills and other buildings upon this plain," and that inasmuch as it was necessary to sow and cultivate these lands this season, which cannot be well done before they have been surveyed and allotted; therefore he solicits the Director General "to authorize the surveyor, Jacques Cortelyou, to measure and divide the same," and for this purpose that he return with the petitioner.

On this petition the following apostil was given:

"Before the requested settlement can be formed and surveyed, the persons who are inclined to establish themselves there ought to number at least twenty families and communicate their names at the office of the secretary of the Director General and Council and furthermore to engage and promise not to trade with the savages."

While the Schenectady settlers were doubtless living and working at that place in 1661 the new town did not take form until 1662. However it is probable that considerable work must have been done on the stockade and on the houses in 1661 so that the pioneers would be able to plow and sow in the following spring. What it would be natural to do we may suppose to have been done.

Schenectady, as laid out, embraced an area of four squares or blocks, each having a frontage of 400 feet. Each square was divided into four lots with 200 feet frontage and a depth of 200 feet. Each proprietor owned one of these lots, a farm or bouwerie on the Great Flat, a pasture land (Calvyre's Wastyea) east of the town, and a garden lot on the lowland lying west of Mill Creek and extending toward the Binne Kill (Dutch for "Inner Channel").

[Photo: The Mohawk Club]

The area within the stockade of Schenectady was comprised within the limits of the present city streets as follows: From Front Street along Washington Avenue, south to State Street (Albany Path), on the south, and from Washington Avenue along Front Street east to Ferry Street, thence to State Street. A palisade ten feet high surrounded this land. The palisade or stockade was built of logs, flattened on the joining sides and set deeply and firmly in the ground. The tops were pointed to make it difficult for an enemy to scale this rampart. These stockades or log forts were copied after those built by the Mohawks and other Iroquois tribes and all early Dutch, British and French posts, as well as many of those of the French and Indian and Revolutionary wars were built on the same plan. It was a long, laborious and difficult task to cut, cart and set in place the great number of logs necessary to enclose such a site. Stand at the corner of the Mohawk club, in the city of Schenectady, where the tablet marks the site of Van Curler's house, and look about the area comprised within the first village and then one can realize the comparatively great labor involved in the construction of even such a small village as the original Schenectady, when we consider the period and the small number of settlers. The logs for this stockade and for the village houses were probably cut and drawn here over the snow on sleds in the previous winter.

The main gate was located at present Church and Front streets, which is now easily located by the bronze tablet marking this gate, through which the French and Indian raiders came on the night of the massacre, February 8th, 1690. The second gate was on State Street near Church. A small blockhouse was located in the northwest corner of the stockade.

Front Street still has its original Dutch name. It fronted the river and the south shore river trail probably ran over its site, as the Niskayuna road led from it eastward from the original settlement of Schenectady.

Washington Avenue was Haendler's (Traders) Street. After the massacre and burning of 1690, it became Lion Street. The name was changed to Washington Street during the Revolution, because Washington stopped at the house of John Glen at No. 58 Washington Avenue. Later the word street was changed to avenue and this pleasant thoroughfare then became the Washington Avenue of today. The Haendler's Street of early Schenectady was the main business street of the town. Both houses, stores and small warehouses stood along it. It stood at right angles to Front Street and to the south shore Mohawk trail reaching here from the west. It also stood close to the river channel called Binne Kill, which formed the harbor for the settlers' skiffs, batteaux and the later Schenectady and Durham boats. For a century and a half after the settlement of Schenectady, it was a busy scene of Mohawk River commerce.

Union Street is the Niskayuna Street of the first Schenectady settlers, as it ran to the Dutch settlement of Niskayuna about ten miles southeast.

State Street was the Albany Path of the Hollanders and the Skanaktade trail of the Mohawks. After the massacre of 1690, it was called Martyrs' Street, "because of the great number that were killed in that section of the town". After the Revolution, it was called State Street, in honor of the State of New York which succeeded the Royal Province.

Although there was no church building erected until 1684, Church Street bore its name from the time of the first settlement probably because some house or building upon it was used for church purposes, just as a horse mill in old Dutch Manhattan was the first church used on the present site of our great city of New York — "our" city, because it lies within the limits of "our" great Valley of the Hudson of which "our" Mohawk Valley forms a part.

The early names of the settlement were the "Groote Vlachte" (Great Flat) "the Plain" and "Schenectady" (in various spellings). In spite of statements to the contrary, the name "Schenectady" was used for this locality from the first, as will be seen by the copies of documents here reprinted.

"In a little while after the settlement the population had so increased that building lots were assigned along Albany Path, those being mostly on the south side of the highway. Soon, also, the large house lots within the palisades were divided to afford building sites for the newcomers. For a considerable time, however, after the settlement, Union Street was not opened east of the Ferry.

"While the Dutch were yet in power there was a small fort (Fort Orange) at Albany, garrisoned by a few soldiers, but after the assumption of control by England, the force at that place was often more than one full company and, a part of the time, two companies were stationed there. The fort at Schenectady had from twenty to forty men under a Lieutenant. During the period of French and English wars, these were often supplemented by the militia."

[Photo: Patent of 1662 for Van Slyck's Island, Schenectady.]

While Director-General Petrus Stuyvesant delayed (from 1661 to 1664) in granting patents to the settlers of Schenectady, yet he nevertheless made an exception in the case of the great island in the Mohawk River now known as Van Slyck island. This was conveyed by patent, under date of the 12th of November, 1662, to Jan Barentsen Wemp and Jacques Cornelise (Van Slyck). This conveyance is noteworthy, as it is the first patent for lands granted in the Mohawk Valley. Marten Cornelise Van Slyck, the Indian interpreter and the half-breed son of Cornelisse Antonisen Van Slyck, had died since he had witnessed, in the previous year, the deed of sale of the Schenectady lands by the Mohawks. The Mohawks had given this island to Marten Cornelise Van Slyck (generally called Marten Mourits), and at the time of the patent, it was known as Marten's Island. Marten's brother, Jacques, was his heir, and succeeded to his ownership of the island, in which he had probably sold a half interest to Wemp. The island contained 82 acres. The original of this Van Slyck island patent hangs in the office of the President of Union College. It is here illustrated and a translation from the Dutch is given. The translation is by Mr. J. F. Van Laer, archivist of the University of the State of New York. It was made in connection with the conveyance made necessary by the construction of the Great Western Gateway Bridge over this and other islands in the Mohawk at Schenectady.

A year passed since Arent Van Curler wrote Stuyvesant, in 1662, asking that the Schenectady lands be surveyed. The inhabitants of Beverwyck and Rensselaerwyck "were most anxious to retain the fur monopoly and had sufficient influence with the Director and Council to induce them to order that the settlers of Schenectady should confine themselves exclusively to agriculture and abstain from all trade with the Indians."

"On the 9th of May, 1663, Governor Stuyvesant wrote to Commies La Montagne and the court of Beverwyck, that by request he had sent up the sworn surveyor, Jacques Cortelyou, to lay out and survey the Great Flat, but as he was indirectly informed that some of the new settlers there had dared, against his express orders, dated April 6, 1662, to sell strong liquors to the savages, he had commanded the aforesaid Cortelyou to measure no lands for any individual there except he had previously signed the enclosed indenture in the presence of the commies and commissaries."

This indenture called upon the settlers to "promise hereby that we will not, on the aforesaid Plain, nor in its vicinity, undertake to trade in any manner under any pretext whatsoever with the savages, either directly or indirectly," and it contained a fine of fifty beavers for the first offense, one hundred for the second, and forfeiture of all property in Schenectady for the third infraction.

Van Curler called the "settlers of Schanechstede" together, on the 18th of May, 1663, and proposed that they should sign an agreement recommended to him by Commissary La Montagne and the magistrates of Beverwyck.

To this the settlers unanimously answered, declaring their willingness

"to obey the Noble West India Company and the supreme magistrates in New Netherland, with other subjects to pay all their taxes, and neither to do nor attempt anything contrary to published orders and placards, fully trusting that their honors will not treat us less kindly nor impose duties upon us other than upon the other subjects of this Province and being fully assured that your Honors will Seriously consider, that in consequence of your resolution of date 23d June 1661 these lands were purchased out of our own pockets for the Noble Company, settled at great expence, buildings erected and the land stocked with cattle and horses; and that if these settlers be treated otherwise and worse than other subjects, then all their labor would be in vain and they actually ruined, which God avert.

"We petition therefore that it may please your honors to permit us the continued cultivation of these lands, as by letters patent you granted [Marten's island] to Jan Barentse Wemp and Jacques Cornelise [Van Slyck] without any restrictions.

"Finally as the surveyor is in this vicinity and has no orders to survey the land save the aforesaid agreement is subscribed, we renew our request to prevent future differences and disputes that he may be authorized to survey and allot the land among us, otherwise we shall be compelled to help ourselves as best we can.

This petition is of interest as it contains the signatures or "merks" of fourteen of the original Schenectady proprietors. Director General Stuyvesant and his Council considered this petition on June 18, 1663. Their answer was indefinite, merely reiterating the necessity of the Schenectady settlers confining themselves to agriculture and leaving the Indian trade alone.

The Beverwyck fur traders made many complaints against allowing trade at Schenectady, alleging the danger, etc., to the Colony, and other reasons — all except the true one of its hurting their pockets.

Stuyvesant and his Council thereupon took into consideration "the danger of carrying merchandise six or seven (Dutch) miles into the country, on horses and wagons, for purposes of trade with the savages, by whom it ought to be expected that such goods would be attacked and plundered on the road, as indeed had already been the case and even attempts made to violate the women who went thither, as well as other insolences committed by the Barbarians, not only on the road but in the settlement itself."

For these reasons Director Stuyvesant and his Council forbade the carrying of goods to Schenectady for the Indian trade. 1663 went by without any patents being granted or any survey being made.

April 17, 1664, Alexander Lindsay Glen, Willem Teller and Harmen Vedder, "for themselves and the other inhabitants of the settlement named Schaneghstede," petitioned the Director General to send up Surveyor Cortelyou to survey and parcel out the lands.

At Fort Amsterdam, under the date of 20th of May, 1664, Stuyvesant "commanded" Jacques Cortelyou to proceed by the first sailing vessel to Fort Orange to lay out the "lands of Schanechstede." And so, after a delay of nearly three years, Director General Stuyvesant finally acceded to the demands and petitions of Van Curler and the Schenectady pioneers and the several lots and farms were surveyed and conveyed to them by patents. Dating from 1661 the little frontier settlement of Schenectady had three years of Dutch rule. These had been most unsatisfactory to the pioneers who probably numbered 200 in 1664. This period had been marked by irritating delays and squabbles over the surveys and patents of the lands, after the settlers had originally been permitted to purchase them from the Indians.

On August 29, 1664, Stuyvesant surrendered Fort Amsterdam, New Amsterdam and New Netherland to Colonel Nicolls, the commander of the invading English forces, and Schenectady ostensibly passed from Dutch to English rule, with hardly a ripple in its daily life caused by this historically momentous event. English soldiers replaced the Dutch in Fort Schenectady but the local Dutch officials continued their duties. It is probable that the Schenectady burghers felt a relief at the change as they thought it might presage a loosening of the monopolistic grip of the fur traders of Beverwyck, now Albany, in which hope they were doomed to disappointment.

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