Sunday, October 18, 2009

Rensselear County Historical Society Talk Thursday

John Warren (yours truly) has written the first history of the Poestenkill ­which flows through the center of Rensselaer County and enters the Hudson River at Troy, will offer a book talk and signing this Thursday (October 22nd, 6:30 to­ 8 pm) at the Rensselaer County Historical Society in Troy (57 Second Street, Troy). The event is free and open to the public. Copies of The Poesten Kill will be available for purchase at the event. The Poestenkill has been home to American Indians who hunted, gathered, fished and farmed along its shores, frontier Dutch farmers and traders, colonial tradesmen, merchants, millers, and lumbermen, and nineteenth century iron, steel, textile, and paper workers.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Other Early Settlements Along The Upper Hudson

Between the more formidable island of Papscanee (previously spelled Papsickene, now a peninsula nature preserve) and where the Hoosac River meets the Hudson, more than a dozen streams flow into the Hudson. Only at the Poesten Kill was there enough farmland, room to grow, and sufficient water-power for the earliest industries.

An early outlying farm built across the Hudson River from Fort Orange was built by 1632 on the south side of Mill Creek at de Laetsburgh, later known as t’greynen bosch (Greenbush, the pine woods) and now within the Rensselaer city limits. Like the Poesten Kill it also had mills, homes, a brewery and tavern, and even a Dutch Reformed church and parsonage. A ferry was established there and later colonial soldiers were often mustered under the protective eye of the fort across the river. The ferry continued to be controlled by the Van Rensselaer family until the nineteenth century providing easy and regular transportation between the Greenbush and Albany.

South of Fort Orange, on the Hudson's west side, flooding and terrain restricted development of farms and the Normanskill was insufficient as a source of power.

Four miles north of Fort Orange on the Hudson’s west side the Patroon established a farm once called de Vlackte (the Flatts, home of the Patroon’s agent Arent van Curler), later known as West Troy and today Watervliet. The farm was considerably closer to the fort than those on the Poesten Kill and much more connected to life there, but lacked water power.

Photo: The Hudson River Valley c 1635

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Early Warfare: King William and Queen Anne's Wars

In the 1680s and 1690s the latest in a long string of European wars broke out. The War of the Grand Alliance, also known as King Williams War (1688-1697), pitted France against England, the Netherlands, and Austria and quickly and naturally spilled over to a bitter conflict of raids and counter-raids which mostly took place between New France and frontier settlements of eastern New York and western Massachusetts. Each employed their Indian allies to fight on their behalf and to guide their small armies to their respective enemies. In 1689 the Count Louis de Baude Frontenac, who had been governor of Canada during 1672-82, arrived in New France with orders from Louis XIV to attack the Iroquois and their allies in eastern New York and New England. The French launched a number of raids attacking the large outposts and surrounding settlers at Schenectady, Salmon Falls, New Hampshire, Fort Loyal (now Portland, Maine) and the villages of the Oneidas, Onondagas, and Mohawks. In 1690, Poesten Kill landholder Sweer Theunissen van Velson and his wife Maritie Myndertse (Jan Wemp’s widow) were killed in the attack on Schenectady, as was Jan Wemp’s son Myndert.

European conflict in the northern frontier of New York was renewed with the War of the Spanish Succession (Queen Anne’s War, 1701-1713) that pitted England, the Netherlands, Austria, and this time also the Holy Roman Empire, against the French. Once again the paths leading to the upper Hudson (notably along the Hoosic) saw raiding parties moving back and forth between New France, New York, and New England. One notable raid that was widely reported at this time was the February 1704 attack on Deerfield in nearby western Massachusetts. Another was the attack on the Kittle family of Schaghticoke in 1711.

Photo: Len Tantillo's Depiction of Schenectady in about 1690.

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Monday, September 7, 2009

Settler Fears of Indian Conflict on The Upper Hudson

Noted local historical archeologist David R. Starbuck has said that the interconnected routes from the Richelieu River at the north end of Lake Champlain to Albany has the highest density of military sites in North America in the 1700s. The large military encampments that attended the big campaigns of that era were among the largest cities in America, albeit for short intervals. Considering the conflicts between the colonial Dutch, French, and British subjects and various Indian communities who utilized the same route, we might also extend that idea. It’s likely that the great northern route, the great warpath, the great northern war trail, and its connected communities and strategic sites have the highest density of military conflict sites in North America in the 1600s as well. It was along this route that scattered attacks by the French and their Indian allies (mostly Algonquin, Abenaki, Huron, and Christianized Iroquois) were made on the settlers along the Hudson and tributaries like the Poesten Kill.

No palisade is known to have built at Troy, however, and according to Janny Venema, a wall around Beverwijck (outside Fort Orange) served to allay the fears of the village’s residents, but also restricted their movement outside its gates. Villagers were prohibited from leaving the palisade to meet with the Indians outside in 1660, and in 1662 posts were set up outside the community beyond which no Bevewijck residents was allowed to go. “Waiting at the post for Indians coming from the west had become a way to take a chance on luck and speculation,” Venema writes, “the defense separated the worlds of settlers and Indians, but the west [and we might add here the north at the Poesten Kill] remained an area of attraction for the colonists… a way to circumvent the rules.” Settlers used the trail to Schenectady (established in 1661, the year before Wemp secured his patent there) for illegal trade. “Despite the prohibition on trade with the Indians” Venema writes “settlers carried goods and merchandise on wagons and horseback six or seven miles inland in order to barter with the Indians… but this journey would become increasingly dangerous; and by the summer of 1664, few people dared to travel the [Mohawk] trail anymore.” Those on the Hudson’s east side at the Poesten Kill were freer to come and go as they pleased. Out of sight of local officials they could more easily participate in the trade, but also were more exposed when depredations did occur.

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Monday, August 31, 2009

The English Takeover and New Settlers

Farmer-trader-craftsmen dominated the people who settled along the Poesten Kill, and later, the poorer soils and cooler climate on the plateau above. After 1640 the company monopoly on the fur trade was reduced and settlers were allowed to participate provided they gave about half their profits to the Patroon. The settlement and trade increased so by 1641 the patroon thought it necessary to authorize his officers to take action against farmers who were hiring carpenters and other craftsman who were not the estate’s employees. By then the lines were blurred between tenet farmer, trader, and the increasing number of craftspeople setting up outside Fort Orange.

By the time of the English takeover of New Netherland Sweer Theunissen van Velson was in a sense an absentee landlord of the Poesten Bowery (farm) which then included both sides of the Poesten Kill south to the Wynants Kill; it ranged from the Poesten Mill near the base of the plateau on the bowery’s east side (today, Hill Street) to the Hudson River. Van Velson secured his leased rights by getting a patent from Richard Nicolls, the English Governor of the Province of New York. About the same time, van Velson leased the section to the south of the Poesten Kill, known then as Lubberde’s landt, from Johanna de Laet Ebbingh. She was Johan de Laet’s daughter, who had inherited a tenth of the Rensselaerswyck estate - “excepting the lord’s right” - in 1674 and only recently married Jeronimus Ebbingh.

In 1707 the Van Woggelum bowery was conveyed to Dirck Van der Heyden, who was then taking over the best lands along the Hudson (he bought Schuyler’s farm in 1720). Van der Heyden speculated on land leases throughout the area, notably in 1717 when he pulled from the hat of Albany’s mayor one of eight farms that were leased at Schaghticoke. Before it took the name Troy, the community along the Poesten Kill bottom lands was known as Vanderheyden and stretched from the Poesten Kill north to the Piscawan Kill.

The Van der Heyden family in Rensselaerswyck was born of the marriage of Jacob Tyssen and Anna Hals who settled in Beverwyck outside the walls of the Fort Orange, while the community was still in Dutch hands. Their son was Dirck Van der Heyden.

The land from Division Street to Grand, known to history as the “middle farm,” was held by Jacob D. Van der Heyden. Jacob D. lived in a wooden house at the southeast corner of Ferry and River streets (at what is now a Russell Sage dorm). Later, he built a new brick mansion at southwest corner of Grand Division Street (now Grand Street) and Eighth Street; it was destroyed by the great fire of May 10, 1862. From Grand Division to the Piscawan Kill was the “upper farm” owned by Jacob I. Van der Heyden. His farm house, a small brick building built in 1756, stood at what would now be 548 River Street, north of Hoosick Street on the east side at what is now Vanderhyden Street. It was latter connected to the Seton Day Home and in the 1970s was torn down – it’s now paved over and the only part of a hand wrought iron fence stands on River Street.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Early Dutch Farms on The Poesten Kill

What the earliest farms on the Poesten Kill looked like is only conjecture at this point as there has been virtually no archeology aimed at the Dutch period along the kill. Two similar farms in the East Manor have been found and excavated however, but neither may reflect the kind of buildings that the English carpenter Thomas Chambers built on the Poesten Kill.

The Van Buren Site was discovered in 1973 by Art Johnson in what was once Greenbush. It was located where Indian people had also lived and was a large site that including several buildings over the years. More recently Shirley Dunn has suggested that the farm was occupied by Symon Walichsen in 1637 and later by Edward Pels and Juriaen Bestval who arrived there in 1649. A second farm found in Greenbush was that of Teunis Dirckse van Vechten who lived there from 1639 until his death in 1685. His farm suggests the kinds of activities that might have also occurred on the Poesten Kill. Van Vechten was a farmer, trader, part owner of a brewery (he grew a lot of oats), and he owned half of the yacht Het Zeepaert (The Seahorse) in 1651.

Chambers and Wemp owned the land only in the sense that they had the rights to it – these agreements would today be considered leases although they were in many ways treated as sales. It makes for a somewhat confusing history of local land transfers, especially considering that what is now Troy was the northern border of Van Renssealer’s manor, and that the English took over New Netherland in 1664.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Poesten Kill, Now Available For Purchase

The first detailed history of the Poesten Kill from the Petersburg Mountains to the Hudson River is now available at Amazon.,com. I hope you'll enjoy the book and check in here to comment.

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