History of the Town of Schaghticoke

the results of research about the history of the town of Schaghticoke

Monthly Archives: July 2011

Native Americans, problems as Europeans move in

 

 

                In the last post, I discussed the unique Indian history of Schaghticoke, as a home for refugees of King Philip’s War of 1675-1676, and the site of an oak tree planted to symbolize the welcome of the colony of New York to these refugees. They were from a number of New England tribes: Sokokis, Pocumtuks, Nonotucks, Woronokes, Agawams, Pennacooks, Narragansetts, Nipmucks, and Wampanoags. But the total numbers were quite small. We know this because another group of New England Indians moved to Schaghticoke in 1685, consisting of 56 men and 100 women and children, and they became the majority and dominant group. These later  Indians had originally moved from New England to Canada, with a sachem or leader named Sadochiquis. The government of New York continually tried to lure more Indians to Schaghticoke, and Abenaki relatives of the Schaghticokes in Canada kept trying to get them to move north.

                For some years, at least until about 1700, things went well at the new settlement.  It seems to have stretched for several miles on both sides of the Hoosic River from the Hudson inland, with the Indians living in buildings of bark, log, and/or wood frame.  But Northern Indians from Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Canada found that Schaghticoke was a good way-stop on the way to Albany. Apparently the Schaghticokes either participated in or facilitated smuggling of furs from Quebec, to be traded for gunpowder, lead for shot, cloth, and ironware with the merchants of Albany. 

                The Indians from elsewhere who passed through Schaghticoke were not used to dealing with the Dutch and English and got in trouble with the courts, committing crimes from leaving farm gates open to murder. In one incident in 1682, some guests that the Schaghticokes had taken in got drunk and got in an altercation with a farmer and his workers in Menands. The Schaghticokes apologized profusely to the court. They said they would be more careful with their guests in the future. The guests were very important to them as they were friends and relatives who had taken refuge in the areas of the St. Lawrence River, and were probably the smugglers and a source of some income to the Schaghticokes.

                In 1690 the English went to war with the French in Canada. Now the government of New York called upon the refugees to fulfill their part of the bargain- a safe place to live in exchange for help against enemies. Indians from Schaghticoke joined with other local Indians and journeyed to near Montreal, where they successfully attacked the enemy and returned home. The next year, some of the Schaghticokes were forced to move to Half Moon, to act as a buffer between Canada and Albany on another route of attack. They remained until 1696. Governor Benjamin Fletcher called them to a conference to thank them for their service and gave each warior six pounds.  Apparently despite the compensation they had been unhappy living there. Certainly they were away from home, and they didn’t like being closer to the temptations in Albany. They got in debt and were more often drunk.  Alcohol, of course, was a persistent problem in European-Indian relations. By 1697 there were only 90 River Indian warriors- which includes the area from Catskill to Schaghticoke- some had been killed, some had died in a big smallpox epidemic, and some had moved away to safer places.

                This sounds like the end of Indian occupation at Schaghticoke, but it wasn’t….quite. In upcoming posts, I’ll draw the Indian occupation of the town to a close, introduce the first European settlers, and discuss another very unique event in our history.

Bibliography: Dunn, Shirley, The Mohicans and Their Land, 1609-1730, 1994.

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Native Americans in Schaghticoke, refugees from King Philip’s War invited

Mahican Indians lived all along the Hudson River at the time of Henry Hudson’s exploration and the settlement of Albany in 1614.  Relatives of the local Indians lived throughout New England.  They spoke a common language, but lived in separate tribes. As the 1600’s went on, the population of Europeans in New England increased, and the Mahicans realized that peaceful coexistence was not going to be possible much longer. The pressure was not the same in the Dutch colony of New Netherlands because not many settlers had arrived. The Dutch focus was on trade, not settlement. But the Indians in New England saw that their way of life would be destroyed by the invasive Europeans, and decided to push back.

In 1675-1676, the Indians tried to force the Europeans out of New England in what has come to be called King Philip’s War. “King Philip” was the anglicized name of the leader of the Wampanoag tribe, Metacomet.  At first, the Indians had great success, attacking numerous small European settlements, and killing many settlers. But as the Europeans got organized, their numerical and technological superiority defeated the Indians. If you are interested in finding out more about the Mahican Indians and King Philip’s War, I suggest a visit to the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, which is located across the street from the Foxwoods Casino near Mystic, Connecticut. The museum, funded with profits from the Casino, is fantastic, and gives a great view of Mahican life and history. They  also have a movie about King Philip’s War.

In the winter of 1675-1676, King Philip and a few followers made a journey to Schaghticoke. The war was not going well, and they came here to try to recruit some warriors to return with him to fight in the spring.  Most sources suggest that the new Governor of the Colony of New York, Edmund Andros, organized  the Mohawks to attack Philip, somewhere in Old Schaghticoke (near the current Knickerbocker Mansion), and he returned home with no new recruits. One book indicates that there was quite a battle, with the population of Schaghticoke swelled by “hundreds” of Algonquian Indians who were allied with the French.  In any case, by August of 1676, Philip was dead, defeated near his home in Rhode Island.  The end had come for Indian rebellion, and even Indian life in New England. Most Indians were forced from their villages, and wandered in groups of refugees from mixed tribes.

That same New York Governor, Edmund Andros, invited those refugees to come and settle at Schaghticoke, where some of their relatives by language already lived. He promised them protection from their enemies, the Mohawks. They were to occupy land on both sides of the Hoosic River from the Hudson River inland for twelve to fourteen miles. Other European settlements in New England had emphatically rejected the impoverished Indian refugees. Why did New York seek them out? Andros hoped that the Mahican Indians would help protect the city of Albany from invasion from Canada by the French and their Indian allies. He wanted them to work for the colony as fighters, translators, and messengers.

Governor Andros came to Schaghticoke to seal the covenant with the refugees in 1676. They planted an oak tree to symbolize the agreement.  Later, the tree was called the “Witenagemot Oak.”  Witenagemot is not an Indian word at all, but an old English word, meaning “Council of the Wise.”  Indeed, on the 1877 Beers Atlas map of Schaghticoke, the tree is labelled, “Indian Council Tree.”  Perhaps a well-meaning historian thought the name added a little more cachet to the tree.  The oak stood until a hurricane in 1948. Its trunk, mostly cement due to various efforts to save it before it fell, is in the back yard of the Knickerbocker Mansion.

If you are interested in reading more about the Pilgrims, Puritans, and King Philip’s War, I suggest the book Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick.

Bibliography:  Dunn, Shirley, The Mohicans and their Land, 1609-1730,1994.

Richter, Daniel, Beyond the Covenant Chain, 1987.

Church, Col. Benjamin, Diary of King Philip’s War, 1675-1676,reprinted 1975.

Native Americans in Schaghticoke, early settlement

a Mahican warrior

 

                                The connection of Schaghticoke with Native Americans is obvious just from the name. Schaghticoke is a Mahican Indian word, thought to mean “mingling of the waters.” The “waters” would be the Tomhannock Creek with the Hoosic River, and the Hoosic River with the Hudson River.  The occupation of our area by Native Americans began much before the use of the word, probably at the time of the last great glaciation, some 10,000 years ago.  The rivers and valleys here have always been great places for people to live.

                The major sites of Indian occupation in the town of Schaghticoke were from the area around the Knickerbocker Mansion on both sides of the Hoosic River to the Hudson River.  Around 1990, some boys playing on the banks of the Hoosic River near the Mansion found some human bones washing out. The police were called, but so were the archeologists, and the bones proved to be from an Indian burial, dating 2000-3000 years ago. The bones were reinterred by the State Archeologists nearby, with the exact location kept secret. 

                Anyone who lives and farms around the Mansion, in what is known as “Old Schaghticoke”, or across the Hoosic from there, is used to finding arrowheads and rocks shaped by humans. Some years ago, the area of the Liberty Ridge Corn Maze on Stillwater Bridge Road was proposed as a site for a trailer park, so an extensive archeological survey was done. The conclusion was that the site of the old house on the property was probably where an Indian village was located, and the flats where the trailers were to be put were the fields of the village. In my office, I have several boxes of the archeological finds from that dig.

the entrance sign for Liberty Ridge Farm on Stillwater Bridge Road in Schaghticoke. The farm was the site of a 17th century Mahican village, overlooking the Hoosic River.

                The Indians who lived in the town of Schaghticoke during the period just before the Europeans arrived  were Mahicans, who lived very much like the better-known Iroquois. They built  houses of wood and bark, hunted in the woods, fished in the rivers, and farmed corn, beans, and squash.  Various tribes of the Mahicans lived throughout New England. By 1700, the Hudson River was the western border of their territory, from Schaghticoke  almost all the way to New York City.

The first contact the local Indians had with Europeans may have been with Henry Hudson and his crew. According to Shirley Dunn in her fascinating book, “The Mohicans and their Land, 1609-1730,” after Hudson’s ship “the Half Moon” was moored a couple of miles below the current location of Albany in 1609, its crew rowed at least thirty miles up the river, exploring, “surely well above Schaghticoke.”

                When European settlement was first made in the area of Albany, in 1614, a covenant or agreement was made with the Indians in the region, to ensure peace and cooperation. The Indians at Schaghticoke were very much a part of that agreement.  There were probably 5,000 or fewer  “River Indians”  living  from Saratoga to Kingston and  from just west of the Hudson River to the Berkshires and Green Mountains. The Dutch at Albany and the Indians living around them had a mutually beneficial trading relationship, of trade goods in exhange for furs, for many years.

Bibliography: Dunn, Shirley, The Mohicans and their Land, 1609-1730,1994.

                          Ruttenber, E.M., Indian Tribes of Hudson’s River to 1700,1872, reprinted 1992.

Introduction

       While I have been historian of the town of Schaghticoke for a long time, it is only since my retirement that I have had time to really dig in and research its history. Of course, the more I research, the more I find. I have been writing a weekly column for our local paper, the “Mechanicville Express”, since fall 2010. The first six or seven columns were about how to research one’s family tree, but then I just began to write about the town’s history chronologically. I will post the columns here, hoping both to educate and to get feedback.

        To give a bit of background, Schaghticoke is a mostly rural community of about 7500 people, in Rensselaer County, north of the city of Troy, N.Y. It is in the northwest corner of the county, with the Hudson River as its west boundary. There is just one incorporated village in the town, Schaghticoke, of less than 1000 people. There are several other concentrations of people. Once very much a farming community, Schaghticoke is increasingly a bedroom community for Albany, Troy, and Saratoga county. Thanks to a large waterfall in the Hoosic River, the town also had industry as early as the late 1700’s.

          Local history is most fascinating to “locals”, of course, but it is the history of all the little communities that makes up the big picture. Events and trends in Schaghticoke added to and reflected the wider community. That is my rationale for writing.

This oak was planted as a symbol of peace between the local Mahican Indians, and the colony of New York in 1676. It is the town symbol of Schaghticoke.