History of the Town of Schaghticoke

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

Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Schaghticoke Dutch Reformed Church

Thus far in my weekly column, I have talked about the people who settled Schaghticoke, from the Native Americans to the Dutch, Palatines, and immigrants from New England. I have focused on a few famous individuals and families, the development of local government, the industrial revolution, and the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Now I’ll go back to the start of European colonization of the town and discuss the spiritual lives of the settlers.
In 1700, Robert Livingston, Indian Commissioner for the Colony of New York, wrote to Governor Bellomont, requesting “a Fort at Schaghticoke and a Minister seated there, which would be a means to settle those Indians, and draw many of the Eastern Indians to them.” Livingston was concerned that the Schaghticoke Indians might be recruited to the French side in the ongoing French and Indian Wars. He felt that a fort and a church might be good inducements to keep them loyal to the English. He got the fort soon after, but the church had to wait until after Dutch settlers arrived in some numbers in 1709. According to the 1880 History of Rensselaer County by Sylvester, the first Dutch Reformed Church was built in 1715, a log structure near the junction of Route 67 and Knickerbocker Road. This was the first house of worship north of Albany. One source says that this church was burned by Indians from Canada during King George’s war in 1746. Sylvester goes on to say that the “new” meeting house was built in 1760, “a good specimen of the quaint style of church architecture” of the 1700’s, “60 x 40 feet, with low side-walls and a high-pitched Mansard roof, finished at the east end with a bulbous turret surmounted by a weathercock.” It had a pulpit with a canopy, on a high pedestal, and a “quaint” communion table. This was replaced with a new church on the same site in 1833, “a very good house but considerably modernized.” This burned about 1870, and was replaced by a church built near what is now a small airport, further west on Route 67 toward Mechanicville. That building burned in 1934. It was also topped by a weathercock, “a 5-foot-tall bronze affair weighing about 500 pounds,” perhaps transported from the first church.

Schaghticoke Dutch Reformed Church, from the 1856 map of the town

Little is known of the early pastors of the church. It seems certain that there was no full-time minister until at least 1773. The records of the church survive from 1745-1866. The originals are in the New York State Library. I have a transcription of the records, done in 1909, and indexed by my mother. This transcription lists the first two pastors, Theodorus Frelinghuysen, 1745-1759, and Eilardus Westerlo, 1760-1773, as “supply” ministers, which would mean that they preached at the church only from time to time during the years. Sylvester’s history indicates that Frelinghuysen “preached so sharply against certain ‘fast’ habits of the soldiers and others” that he was much disliked. “One morning he found beside his door a staff, a pair of shoes, and a silver dollar.” He took those as a hint that he should leave, which he did, committing suicide on ship while en route to Holland, “so much did he brood over his troubles.” Who knows if that is true, but it’s a great story. I did find a mention of Theodorus on Wikipedia, the son of another Theodorus Frelinghuysen, both ministers, with a death date of c. 1760. The senior Frelinghuysen was an extremely prominent person in the Dutch Reformed Church.

It is important to note that church services in Schaghticoke were conducted in Dutch until about 1800. This was true at all the Dutch Reformed Churches in the area. For example, the Niskayuna Reformed Church had services in Dutch and English until 1812. The Schaghticoke church records were in Dutch until about 1800 as well. The second full-time minister at the church, Lambertus DeRonde, was deeply embroiled in the controversy that accompanied the change from Dutch to English in the wider Dutch Reformed Church in America. DeRonde was born in Holland in 1720 and arrived in New York in 1750, leaving a pastorate in Surinam, on the north coast of South America. DeRonde was hired by a church in New York City immediately, but soon became aware that there was great debate over whether ministers should switch to English. DeRonde worked hard to learn English, even writing a number of religious works in his new language, but supported the faction which advocated continuing to have services in Dutch. The English faction won, and he was forcibly retired in 1785 ending up in Schaghticoke, definitely a back water. He may have been acting as an associate pastor here as early as 1776, which would mean he was here during dangerous time as well, as the area was evacuated during the Revolution. He and his parishioners here were probably increasingly bilingual. DeRonde translated the new US Constitution into Dutch for those who weren’t in 1788.
DeRonde owned a farm just beyond the Mansion on Knickerbocker Road. The 1790 census lists De Ronde with a household of two other white males over 16, two females, and five slaves. One of the females was his wife, Maria Catherina De Sandra, who was born in Holland in 1719, died in 1801, and is buried in the Knickerbocker Cemetery. The two males were presumably his sons Adriaan and Matheus or Matthew. The 1787 membership list of the Dutch Reformed church lists Maria Catherina as his wife, and the boys as his sons.

The records of the church also list the marriage of Adriaan DeRonde and Hendrikje Van Woert on July 12, 1787. They had a daughter, Margrieta Catrina baptised in 1791, and twins Matthew and Cornelia baptised in 1801, with Matthew and Cornelia Witbeck DeRonde as godparents. Interestingly, the list of members of the church in 1765 included Henderick Lent and his wife Catterina Deronde and in 1768 Aultje and Lena DeRonde. We don’t know how or if these earlier DeRondes were related to Lambertus. De Ronde died in 1795 and was originally buried on his farm. According to notes in my files, DeRonde’s body was exhumed some years later when the Dutch Reformed Consistory in New York City came to realize DeRonde’s importance to the history of the church. He was reinterred in the Knickerbocker Cemetery, with an impressive monument erected by the Consistory of New York. An ornamental fir tree planted next to that monument has grown to be huge over the years, and its roots knocked over that monument, which had been made in sections.
The probate records of Rensselaer County include a fascinating inventory of the estate of Lambertus DeRonde, made after his death in early 1796. Adriaan De Ronde was the administrator,  and Matthew DeRonde helped with the inventory. As an aside, the next year Adriaan and his wife had a child, Lamburtus, baptized at the Troy Ist Presbyterian Church. They were listed as “strangers” and lived in Lansingburgh.  Matthew died in 1813 and is also buried in the Knickerbocker Cemetery, so apparently he stayed in town.

tombstone of Lambertus DeRonde, Knickerbocker Cemetery, Schaghticoke. Tipped over by the roots of the once ornamental tree next to it.

But let’s return to the inventory of Lambertus’ estate. . It begins with a list of 223 books in Dutch, 12 in English, and 69 in Latin. From the titles, many were religious works, and they were valued at a total of about 175 pounds, a considerable sum. To me it is amazing to think of a library that size on the frontier of New York State before 1800. It also indicates that while DeRonde was bilingual, his preference was Dutch. The inventory goes on to list 14 silver tablespoons, 1 silver tankard, 4 salt cellars, and 4 small spoons, 1 silver shaven (shaving?) dish, 1 punch ladel (sic), 1 Negro Man,…wait, what? Yes, slavery was common in well-off Dutch families, and DeRonde, even though he was a minister, had a Negro man and a Negro woman, each valued at 70 pounds, plus two Negro girls, one valued at 30 pounds, one at 20 pounds; one Negro boy valued at 25 pounds, and a second at 14 pounds.
DeRonde also had the belongings of a farmer: 5 cows; 2 heifers; 4 yearlings; 40 sheep; 4 horses each valued at 10 pounds; plus 2 other mares, one valued at 15 pounds, one at 20; 1 sow; and 13 shoats (piglets). He also had 2 wagons, 2 slays (sic), 2 plows, a harrow, and 1 windmill. Furnishings of the house included 3 featherbeds, 2 large looking glasses, 16 pictures, a mahogany tea table, and 12 Windsor chairs. Tableware included 25 Cheany plates- maybe china?, 12 pewter water plates- these would have allowed hot water to be placed inside to keep food warm- and 10 other pewter plates, 10 knives and forks, 3 brass and 4 pewter candlesticks, 1 pewter tea kettle and 1 pewter coffee pot, plus 1 (silver) plated oil and venigar (sic) server. There were also two tobacco boxes, one wooden, one pewter. The total estate was valued at 729 pounds.
Lambertus DeRonde was a well-educated, sophisticated man, with a European education, who lived in New York City for many years. In retirement he lived in a small, rural community on the frontier, but was surrounded by the possessions he had collected over a life-time.
The records of the Dutch Reformed Church are a great source for genealogists. They are the earliest vital records of residents of the town of Schaghticoke. Because there was no other church in the area until about 1776, many people who were not Dutch Reformed, and who lived quite far away, were married and had babies baptised in the church.
The record of pastors of the Dutch Reformed Church ends with J.A. Harper, the pastor from 1905-1909, but the records of baptisms and marriages dwindles, and ends with a few entries in the 1860’s. It is significant that when the church was rebuilt in 1870, it was relocated. The original center of population in Schaghticoke, in the old Albany Corporation Lands around the Knickerbocker Mansion, was now a backwater, supplanted by the growing village of Schaghticoke. It may have seemed that the new site, near a railroad station at the hamlet of Reynolds, and closer to the ferry to Mechanicville, would access more people. The church was reincorporated in 1872 by elders John A. VanVeghten, H.A. Hemstreet, and deacons James Webster, Ira Button, and William H. Fort. They all lived in that area. But the church continued to lose membership, and was not rebuilt after it burned in 1934.

Bibliography: notes by Rodney O. Winans in the files of the historian
Goodfriend, Joyce D. “The Cultural Metamorphosis of Dominie Lambertus DeRonde”, Hudson Valley Regional Review, Spring 2009. P 63-75.
1790 census
Transcription of the records of the Dutch Reformed church, collection of the historian
Sylvester, Nathan , History of Rensselaer County, 1880.

Bicentennial of the War of 1812

Why should we care about the War of 1812? Now the U.S. Civil War, that’s something else. We are in the midst of celebrating the 150th Anniversary of that great and horrible war. There are many reasons why that war was of immense importance to our nation and locality, and thousands of books have been written about it. Comparatively little research and writing has been done about the War of 1812. But it was of great importance to our nation, state, and locality.
The War of 1812 began after diplomacy failed to solve the problem of Great Britain interfering with American shipping, as the U.S. struggled to stay neutral while France (under Napoleon) and Great Britain were at war. America felt Great Britain had failed to respect her independence, and was also interfering with her westward expansion into the Ohio Valley. I was shocked to learn that the British continued to occupy Fort Ontario, at Oswego, New York, until 1794!

Fort Ontario, Oswego, New York

The borders of New York State with Canada were the major battlegrounds of the war. The initial American goal was to invade and conquer Canada. This obviously failed, or U.S. borders would be quite different! There were land and naval campaigns on both Lakes Ontario and Champlain.

Uncle Sam Statue, downtown Troy, NY

Nationally, our success- or at least our non-failure- in the war cemented the United States as a real nation, and real world power, which would survive a rocky start. The war also produced one of our national symbols, Uncle Sam. Samuel Wilson was a Troy meatpacker who provided supplies to the large military base or cantonment in East Greenbush. The well-documented story goes that the initials U.S., stamped on his barrels of meat, came to stand for his nickname, Uncle Sam. There is an Uncle Sam Trail, which will take you to sites in Troy connected with his life and death. He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery. Check out the website http://www.unclesamtroy.org for lots more information.
The East Greenbush Cantonment was the headquarters of the Army of the North. As many as 5000 soldiers were quartered throughout the war in about 20 buildings in the area of what is now known as Hampton Manor. One large barracks building survives to this day. I find it amazing that the “Troy Post” newspaper of the time records events of the War of 1812 in great detail, but never discusses the presence of 5000 soldiers.
Just last week an excellent exhibit about Rensselaer County and the War of 1812 opened at the Rensselaer County Historical Society in Troy, New York. It is open Thursday-Saturday from noon to five. It includes a wonderful scale model of the cantonment. The society also has a permanent exhibit about Uncle Sam.
Samuel Wilson is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Troy. In September, the President General and New York State Regent of the Daughters of the American Revolution installed new benches at and new signage leading to “Uncle Sam’s” grave.

grave of Samuel Wilson in Oakwood Cemetery, Troy New York

Of course, I am interested in Schaghticoke’s part in the war. Unfortunately, at this point there is not much information on Schaghticoke men in the war. The pension papers of Revolutionary War veterans are all online, but those of the War of 1812 vets are not, though that accomplishment is a goal of the National Archives. There is some information on local men and events.
One of the biggest effects of the War on Schaghticoke was the founding of the Powder Mill by the Masters brothers on the Tomhannock Creek. That industry was begun in 1812 to produce black powder for use by the U.S. military in the war. The Schaghticoke Powder Company was in business in Schaghticoke and Pittstown until 1928, making a strong contribution to the local economy.
One of the most famous people ever to live in Schaghticoke, John Ellis Wool, began his military career in the War of 1812. He was raised by his grandfather, who had a farm on what is now Wetsel Road, off Fogarty Road in the southern part of the town. He had experience in a Troy militia unit before the war, so that when he enlisted in the regular Army, it was as a Captain. After the battle of Queenston, Ontario in 1813, he was promoted to Major for his heroism. After the battle of Plattsburgh in 1814, he was promoted to Colonel, and by the end of the war he was Inspector General of the whole U.S. Army. He went on to be a General in the Mexican and Civil Wars and was proposed as a Presidential candidate. The Rensselaer County Historical Society in Troy has quite a few of the possessions of Wool, including his uniform coatee from the War of 1812. This extremely rare coatee is currently on loan to the Canadian War Museum as part of an exhibit in celebrating the bicentennial of the war. One of the glorious memorial swords he received for his military valor is part of the exhibit at the Historical Society.

John Ellis Wool, who served in the US Military from 1812-1863

Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Site of a great exhibit on the War of 1812..and lots more wonderful exhibits

Jonathan Read was in an artillery company of militia from Pittstown, which may have included Schaghticoke residents. Shortly after the war began in 1812, Read’s artillery unit was called to service for three months, as a part of 13,500 militia men mobilized by Governor Tompkins in New York State. Read left a journal of his service, a Xerox of which is in the Rensselaer County Historical Society. Unfortunately he only gives names of others in his company as appropriate- for example, if a man became ill, or was court martialled. So we don’t know many of the men who were with him. His commander was Captain, later Major, Andrew Brown.
The Company left Pittstown on September 15, 1812, met up with another company in Waterford, and walked to Sackets Harbor, on Lake Ontario just west of Watertown. Achieving from 12 to 18 miles a day, they arrived in Sackets Harbor on Sunday, October 4. The company finished its three months of duty on December 18. Read stayed a few more days, leaving with a few others on December 23rd. They traveled by sleigh, making about 25 miles a day, arriving in Lansingburgh on December 29th. Read walked home to Pittstown the next day.
While Read’s militia company did see a bit of action, sparring with the British on the opposite shore several times, there was no major battle during his service. The main battle of Sackets Harbor took place on May 29, 1813. Read recorded just one fatality in the company, a man who died of disease. Indeed, he seemed to have enjoyed his deployment. He recorded generous hospitality in the inns they stayed near both going and returning, and made no mention of any hardships or deprivations. He often described the countryside they passed through, noting soil type and vegetation. Surprisingly, he recorded seeing two deer on the trip home, the first he had ever seen. He also ate venison for the first time on that journey. He summarized that he had been away from home for three months and twelve days and traveled 475 miles. Google Maps gives the distance as about 420 miles- so his estimate was quite accurate.
There is a New York State Historical site in Sackets Harbor, on the site of the battle. During the summer, the commandant’s house and other exhibits are open. There will be a bicentennial celebration on May 29, 2013. http://nysparks.com/historic-sites/7/details.aspx.

monument at Sackets Harbor marking the centennial of the British attack, 1913.

According to Sylvester’s “History of Rensselaer County”, William Knickerbacker, resident of the Mansion at the time, was Colonel of a local militia regiment during the War of 1812. He states, “Many from this town either participated in the war or were in the “Eddy expedition” so called, that marched north at the time of Plattsburgh, but was not in time to join that fight and returned home in a few days.” Thanks to Ronald Bachman and his book about Michael Vandercook of Pittstown, “A Fine Commanding Presence”, we know more about the Eddy expedition and the local militia in the war in general. Michael Vandercook, born in 1774, had been in the militia for many years. He was appointed Brigade Major and Inspector of the Third Brigade when Governor Tompkins called up the militia and divided it into eight brigades at the start of the war.
In June of 1812, Vandercook was ordered to go to Plattsburgh, along with militia men- this probably included local people. General Henry Dearborn was supposed to be executing an invasion of Canada and the capture of Montreal. After much delay, Dearborn acted in November. The militia men were virtually unequipped for battle and many refused to cross the border into Canada. The invasion failed. Vandercook and the militia were discharged from duty in time to be home by Christmas.
But on to “the Eddy expedition”. In the summer of 1814, the British attempted to invade New York State via Lake Champlain. The militia were called out again, and Michael Vandercook’s service record notes that the 8th Brigade, led by General Gilbert Eddy, was “mustered at Troy & Schaghticoke” on the 8th, the muster completed on the 13th. They headed north for Plattsburgh on September 13, and reached Granville by September 16. At that point they received word that the British had been defeated in the Battle of Lake Champlain on September 11 and were discharged to go home.
At least two other local men in the Knickerbocker Regiment, the 45th NYS Militia, were Isaac Tallmadge, who was a lieutenant, and Alexander Bryan, who was a captain.
Plattsburgh, New York, has a small museum about the battle, and a tall monument to the naval commander, Thomas McDonough. There is a re-enactment of the battle every September. : http://www.champlain1812.com/

monument in Plattsburgh, New York in honor of Thomas McDonough, US Naval
Commander at the Battle of Plattsburgh, September, 1814

It seems that the impact of the War of 1812 on Schaghticoke and Pittstown was relatively minimal. Matters could have been quite different if the Canadian invasion of New York had succeeded! It did result in one new and important industry- the Powder Mill. Perhaps local farmers helped supply the large Cantonment at East Greenbush. And some local militia men got to travel away from home for the first time.

Herman Knickerbacker: Greatest Man Ever to Live in Schaghticoke?!



             I’ve written before about the most famous family in the history of Schaghticoke, the Knickerbackers. I will say again, if you haven’t visited the KnickerbockerMansion, you must! Look at their website: www.knickmansion.com for information on upcoming events. The Knickerbackers, Dutch from Albany, were among the first few European families to settle in Schaghticoke in 1708. In the next generation, John or Johannes Knickerbacker was Colonel of the local militia regiment in the Revolutionary War. His son John was among the ten wealthiest residents of town in 1800.

             It was John’s son Herman, who knew author Washington Irving.  Irving made Knickerbacker into an iconic name, a symbol of being a New Yorker. Herman or Harman Knickerbacker or Knickerbocker was born on July 20, 1779. He was the sixth child of fourteen of John Knickerbacker, Jr. and Elizabeth Winne. Three of the children, including an earlier Herman, born in 1770, did not survive childhood. Herman had three brothers, William, John, and Abraham. Perhaps because Herman would not be the principal heir, or perhaps because he just was more ambitious or more academically inclined than his brothers, Herman studied to be a lawyer. Of course, John, a wealthy man, could afford to have his son be a student rather than go right to work. Herman was a child of privilege.

           According to one of his obituaries, Herman studied law with John V. Henry in Albany and John Bird in Troy. Both were important men.  John V. Henry was the son of a merchant in Albany. Born in 1767, he was admitted to the bar in 1791. In 1800 he became Comptroller of New York State and was later the state Attorney General. John Bird, born in Litchfield, Connecticut in 1768, was a graduate of Yale, who came to Troy in 1793- very early in its history. He was a Federalist, elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1799. Herman had two powerful mentors in these men.  He also became a Federalist, and jumped into politics even as he was admitted to the bar in 1803.

            As an ambitious young man, Herman leapt into many things at once. Though he lived in Schaghticoke, Herman had his own law firm in Albany, in partnership with Job Pierson. Job was a newcomer to Schaghticoke, and a graduate of WilliamsCollege.  He completed his training to become a lawyer in Herman’s office in 1815. They were partners until 1835. Knickerbacker was appointed a Captain in a new troop of cavalry in the local militia in 1801. Fellow residents Bethel Mather and John Vanderspiegel were appointed Lieutenants.  Mather lived where the M & T Bank is in Schaghticoke now, and Vanderspiegel was the founder of Speigletown, the southern section of the town of Schaghticoke. . Continuing his military career, in 1810, Herman was appointed Major in the 3rd Regiment of Cavalry.  An item in the “Troy Post” of October 15, 1816, announces the annual review of the squadron of cavalry of RensselaerCounty at Lansingburgh on October 17 at 10 o’clock in the forenoon by order of H. Knickerbacker, commandant. Herman must have been an excellent horseman.  So now Herman had a career as a lawyer and entrée into his community as a leader in the militia.

            This portrait, courtesy of the New York Historical Society, shows Herman Knickerbacker as a young man. Doesn’t he look confident?


Herman Knickerbacker as a young man. Portrait in the New York Historical Society


            Herman became a trustee of the new Presbyterian Church in Schaghticoke in 1806, soon after its founding in 1803. He was chosen at a meeting of the church’s founders at the home of Bethel Mather, with whom he was also in the militia.  Pews in the newly constructed meeting house were sold in 1820. This was how the building was financed.  Herman bought pew 35 for $35 and pew 36 for $36. A couple of other men bought two pews, but Herman’s was one of the higher monetary totals. His law partner Job Pierson also bought a pew.  Perhaps this religious involvement was somewhat politically motivated, as none of Herman’s children was baptized in the Presbyterian Church. Even two children born after the pew purchase were baptized in the old-line Dutch Reformed Church.

              Herman also entered politics. He served as Supervisor of the town of Schaghticoke for the first time from 1805-1806. He also served in 1813, from 1818-1823, and from 1825-1826.  Knickerbacker reached what turned out to be the pinnacle of his political career when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1809. He followed his mentor Bird by only eight years, and directly followed another town resident, Josiah Masters. Like them, he was a Federalist. At the time the major political issue of the day was the coming War of 1812. The Federalists opposed the war. President Thomas Jefferson and the U.S. Congress imposed an embargo on U.S. trade with Great Britain in 1807. The embargo devastated the economy, though it did encourage the development of domestic industry.

            According to an 1833 newspaper article, Herman’s maiden speech in the House was against the continuance of the Embargo. He spoke of the negative effects of the embargo on the citizens of Schaghticoke. “It is said that he painted the suffering of his constituents so pathetically, and with such a masterly hand, that he threw the House of Representatives into convulsions of laughter.”  Herman only served one term in Congress.  It seems that many people today serve for many terms in Congress, but during this period, it was common for a Congressman to serve just one term.

               After his time in Washington, Herman continued to be very active in politics. In the “Troy Post” in 1813, there was an advertisement for the “Assembly Peace Ticket”. The Federal Republicans (Federalists) of RensselaerCounty met to nominate men to run for the N.Y.S. Assembly. Bethel Mather of Schaghticoke was one of the nominees, and Herman Knickerbacker was the secretary of the group. They called for “Peace, Liberty, and Commerce.” Herman continued in this role. In 1815, with the war over, the Federalists ran a long campaign ad, listing the many debts incurred and taxes imposed by the Republican government during the war, with nothing to show for it in the peace treaty ending it, and encouraging all to vote for the Federalist ticket.

           Herman served one term in the New York State Legislature in 1816, winning by a considerable margin over his Republican foe.  There was a controversy over seating one of the legislators of the opposite party in a disputed election.  Herman participated in a walk-out with other Federalists over the affair, saying “it was our duty; when we perceived that reason and argument were impotent to withstand the lust for office and the madness of faction.”  This sounds like something that could happen today!

          Knickerbacker ran for the NYS Senate in 1819 and 1822, but by then the Federalist party was losing sway, and in fact disappearing. He lost to the Republican candidate each time. Meanwhile he was serving as Supervisor of the town of Schaghticoke. In 1828, Knickerbocker changed his politics and became a Democrat and supporter of Andrew Jackson.  According to his obituary, he carried with him “a large majority of the Federalists in his town” as he did. The obituary adds that “he was a great admirer of the late DeWitt Clinton and enjoyed the confidence and friendship of that eminent statesman.” In 1828 he was also named First Judge of Rensselaer County, a position he held for the rest of his life. He was referred to thereafter as “Judge Knickerbacker.”

             Throughout, he was an active attorney, farmer, and industrialist.  Basically every early 19th century deed or will of a person in Schaghticoke which I have examined has Herman’s name in it somewhere- either as a creditor or a lawyer.   For example, while examining the probate papers of Andrew Diver, a well-off local man who died in 1809, I found that Herman Knickerbacker was the attorney. When Josiah Masters, the local man who had served in Congress just before Herman, died in 1822, Knickerbacker was the administrator of the estate. I have found two deeds where bankrupt people sold their land to Knickerbacker and partners, unable to pay back loans to them. They would have to sell the land to recoup their loans.  In 1828 William and Olive Slocum of Schaghticoke sold all their real and personal estate to Herman and a couple of others to satisfy their debts. Knickerbacker had endorsed several of Slocum’s promissory notes, which Slocum was now unable to pay, and had been awarded a judgment of about $5000 in Supreme Court.

       When the Rensselaer County Agricultural Society was founded in 1819, Herman was chosen the first Vice President, illustrating his involvement both in agriculture and politics.  In census listings, Herman listed his occupation as “farmer.”

         In 1811, Knickerbacker became the President of the Farmers Manufacturing Company, incorporated at Schaghticoke Point (the village of Schaghticoke)  to make “woolen, cotton and linen goods, and for making glass and from ore bar-iron, anchors, mill irons, steel, nail, rods, hoop iron, and ironmongery, sheet lead, shot, white lead, and red lead.” The trustees were Jonathan Mosher, Aaron Bemus, Ebenezer Deval, Harmon Groesbeck, and Joel Tallmadge. Richard P. Hart took over as President by 1819, and it became part of his huge mill holdings in the gorge of the HoosicRiver.  It was one of the earliest industrial ventures trying to take advantage of the power of the HoosicRiver, and Herman got in at the start. Perhaps it was a case of the investors wanting a prominent person as President, and Herman, just finishing a term as U.S. Congressman, would have been that. But as will be seen later, Herman had other mill ventures.

         Herman’s father, John, died in 1827. He left 1,166 acres around the KnickerbockerMansion, divided into three farms. William, the eldest son, had the first choice, and sons John and Abraham inherited the other two. Abraham ended up with the 332 acre home farm and the mansion.  Herman inherited “Gailord’s land”, and the rights to a mill that his grandfather had had.  An 1826 codicil left Herman a farm that had belonged to James VanAntwerp. One of these pieces of land may have been where he actually lived on the Tomahannock Creek. Law partner Job Pierson lived nearby.

         Besides his involvement in beginning a mill on the Hoosic River, Herman constructed mills himself, located near his home on the Tomahannock Creek, just to the east of where it crosses Route 40. An 1833 newspaper article reports that Knickerbacker “resides about a mile south of the village at the Point, on a singularly wild and romantic spot, upon the bank of Tomahnnock Creek. His ample brick mansion Knickerbacker embosomed in a grove, which he planted with his own hands, forty years ago. ..Below his mansion, Judge K has a number of mills, and likewise a Satinet Manufactory, all his own. He oversees these works himself, and likewise cultivates several extensive and very rich and beautiful farms.” (Satinet was an imitation satin, made of cotton.) To develop the mills, he would have had to construct a dam and its associated water courses. An 1839 deed records Herman selling some land on the Tomhannock to a principal in the Powder Mill. It discusses water rights, noting that Herman gave the buyer the right to use 1/3 of the water from HIS dam, and that he, Knickerbacker, was responsible for maintaining the dam.

         So you can see that Knickerbacker was involved in all aspects of his community, and indeed his county and state.  But he was also a very busy and involved family man. He married his first wife, Arietta Lansing in 1801. She was a daughter of Abraham Lansing and Else VanRensselaer of Albany. Thus Herman married into two of the most prominent Albany families. They had five children before her death in 1814. They had four children baptized in the Schaghticoke Dutch Reformed Church: Abraham Lansing, born in 1802, with godparents Abraham and Elsie Lansing Jr.; Elizabeth Maria, born in 1805; Catharine, born 1808; and Rebecca, born in 1813. The 1810 census of Schaghticoke  lists H. Knickerbacker with a family of 2 males, 3 females, and 4 slaves.

            Arietta died in April 1814. Herman married  Rachel Wendell in December. He needed a mother for those five small children.  Rachel was the daughter of John H. Wendell and Catherine VanBenthuysen of Albany. Wendell had been an officer in the Revolution, called “General” in later life, though he had not really achieved that rank. He was a prominent attorney who served in the N.Y.S. Assembly and as Albany County surrogate, treasurer, and justice of the peace. I find it interesting that Herman again married a girl from a well-known Albany family rather than from Schaghticoke. Herman would assuredly have known a fellow member of the bar in Albany.  He and Rachel had five more children. Daughter Arietta was born in November 1815. Cathalina Wendell, born in 1817 had her grandfather Wendell as godfather. Daughter Maria VanVeghten was born in 1819, son John in 1821, and daughter Rachel Jane in 1822. All were baptized in the Dutch Reformed Church in Schaghticoke. Now there were three sons and seven daughters.

         At a time when public education was just becoming established, and many girls received little or no education, Herman aspired to more for his daughters.   Four of his daughters by first wife Arietta attended the Troy Female Seminary, now EmmaWillard School. Elizabeth attended Emma Willard’s first school in Waterford in 1820. Emma Willard was a pioneer in education for women.  Elsie attended her Troy Seminary in 1822, Catharine in 1824-1825, and Rebecca in 1828. Arietta, a daughter of Herman and second wife Rachel, attended from 1830-1832.

Herman Knickerbacker sent his daughters to be educated by Emma Hart Willard at her groundbreaking school in Troy.

        The 1820 census lists Herman with a family of 1 male between 16 and 18, 1 between 16 and 26, 4 females under 10, 3 from 10-15, and 1 female slave from 26-44 years of age.  Just a note on slaves: Slavery was gradually abolished in New YorkState, beginning in 1799. Blacks born after that date would be free after a certain number of years, with all to be free in 1827. A second note:  Herman may have lived in a house near his brothers at this point, as they all appear on the same page of the census.

       Herman’s second wife died in 1823.  He married a third time on July 20, 1826, to Mary Delia Buel, at her church in Troy. She was the daughter of attorney David Buel and Rachel McNeil of Troy. Mary Delia was born in Litchfield, Conn., the seventh child of her parents. They had moved to the new city of Troy in 1798. Interestingly, one of Mary’s sisters was the second wife of Herman’s mentor, John Bird. Again, Herman would have known his father-in-law before the marriage through the bar association.

       In the 1830 census, Herman had a family of 1 male under 5, 1 20-29, 1 30-39; 2 females under 5, 2 from 5-9, 1 from 15-19, 3 from 20-29, and 1 from 30-39. He was 51, his wife in her 30’s. Herman and Mary had four children of their own, two boys and two girls: Sarah Bird, Charlotte, David, born 1833, and Herman. I don’t know where they were baptized. Herman and Mary’s daughters also attended the Troy Seminary:  Sarah Bird from 1841-1844 and Charlotte Buel from 1846-1848. Sarah continued there as an assistant after graduation and until her marriage. Herman had a total of fourteen children. Eleven survived childhood, just three of them boys: Abraham, the eldest child, born in 1802, and David Buel, and Herman, children of his third wife. David and Herman had uncles younger than they were, children of Abraham.

       Herman continued to live in a houseful of young people. In the 1840 census, he had a family of 2 males from 5-9, 1male 15-19, 1male 20-29, and 1 female under 5, 1 female 10-14, 1 female 15-19, and 1 female 30-39. By 1850, this activity was winding down. The 1850 census lists “Harman” a farmer aged 73, with an estate of $6,000, his wife Mary B., age 53, daughter Charlotte, age 18, and two servants, Ann Hopkins, age 30, who was Irish, and Eve Wolf, age 50. The other children were all off on their own.

       So far, I have given a purely factual recitation of the career of Herman Knickerbacker.  It is wonderful to know so much about a 19th century figure, but even more amazingly, we can also fill out the personality of this man.  Washington Irving was one of the major American authors of the 19th century. He found inspiration in Herman Knickerbacker.  In his Life and Letters, Irving gave a good summary of Herman’s life. He described him as “living hospitably, and filling various stations: a judge, a farmer, a miller, a manufacturer, a politician.” Irving is said to have introduced Knickerbacker (in Washington as a U.S. Congressman in 1807-1809) to President Madison facetiously as “my cousin Diedrich Knickerbocker, the great historian of New York.” Irving visited him several times at his home at Schaghticoke Hill. All of this clearly shows that Herman was Irving’s inspiration for the character of Diedrich Knickerbocker, the fictional author of Irving’s satirical “History of New York,” and that Herman was known not just for his accomplishments, but also for his hospitality.  His obituary in an Albany newspaper stated, he is “remembered rather as a companionable man than as a scholar or statesman.” The Troy “Times” obituary added that he was “noted for his keen wit, his original humor, which made him a favorite in social circles even in his old age.”

Portrait of Washington Irving by John Wesley Jarvis, 1809. He used Herman Knickerbacker as his inspiration for Diedrich Knickerbocker.


Illustration of Diedrich Knickerbocker from Washington Irving’s satirical “History of New York,”


         An 1833 newspaper article describes a tour by the paper’s correspondent around the Saratoga area. He reports, “I have recently returned from a very pleasant visit to Schaghticoke, where I had the happiness of dining with the Prince of that Palatinate, Gen. H. Knickerbacker, in his own hospitable castle. He is a merry sovereign….The Prince has long been celebrated for his hospitality, his humor, and his amusing eccentricities.”  Scribner’s Dictionary of American Biography reports that at his estate in Schaghticoke, “he lived so perfectly the part of the ‘lord of the manor,’ dispensed hospitality with so lavish a hand, and showed himself as liberal in his charities that he became widely known as the ‘Prince of Schaghticoke.’” 

         Herman’s official Congressional Biography also notes his hospitality and generosity.  However, none of the sources mention that Herman was involved in a large number of business and legal affairs in his community. As I noted earlier, basically every will or deed I have looked at from about 1810 to 1830 includes Herman in some way. He was the lawyer, the administrator of the estate, the lender of money, the partner of others in some legal wheeling and dealing. Knickerbacker’s influence may also be seen in the fact that his neighbors Hannah and Peter Grant named a son born in 1810 Herman Knickerbacker Grant.

        I found several 19th century newspaper articles where people had written to ask about the source of the term “Knickerbocker” to refer to a New Yorker. All traced it to Herman Knickerbacker via Washington Irving, though none cited any sources for their information. An 1876 article said that Herman was a practical joker. Once when entertaining the mayor and council of Troy, he pretended he had forgotten the date, and was overheard asking the cook how they could make one chicken stretch to such a huge number of guests, just before “the dining room doors opened on a most sumptuous repast.” This story came from an article written by General Ebgert L. Viele for “Harper’s Magazine” in the same year, titled “The Knickerbockers of New York Two Centuries Ago.” Viele’s mother was a Knickerbacker. An 1890 article stated that Herman was “a man of wit as well as fortune, and extremely fond of practical jokes.”

        Herman died January 30, 1855 in Williamsburgh, New York City, at the home of his daughter Sarah Bird Knickerbacker and her husband Reverend Samuel Haskins.  His wife Mary had died at Sarah’s home just a few weeks earlier, on December 6, 1854. His obituary notes that he suffered paralysis soon after his wife’s death and “gradually failed” up to the date of his death. Sarah herself died later that same year in Saratoga, where she had gone for her health. While Mary was buried in OakwoodCemetery, where there was already a Buel family plot, Herman was interred in the KnickerbackerCemetery, across the street from the Mansion, next to his first two wives. There has been some speculation that a rift between the couple may have been responsible for this separation, but given that the couple was cared for in the same child’s home until death, I feel this is unlikely. Perhaps finances were more the reason, or perhaps Mary’s relatives thought she should be with her own family, rather than in a row with Herman’s first two wives.


       A lengthy obituary for Herman appeared in the Troy “Times” on February 2, 1855. There were few obituaries in the newspaper in that era, so this was a sign of Herman’s importance. And the obituary could not have been more laudatory.  The Rensselaer County Bar Association held a special meeting to mourn Knickerbacker. Long-time law partner Job Pierson chaired the meeting and began by saying that for the first twenty years of their partnership, he and Herman had been political opponents, “yet never during that time did we ever entertain personally an unkind feeling the one to the other. During all his life time never had, indeed could not have had a personal enemy.  His kindness was his only fault.” Others went on to note he was “an honorable and honest man in all the walks of life.” General Viele said “a more benevolent and philanthropic could scarce ever beamed upon oppressed and struggling humanity.” The paper added that “the quaint stories and laughable anecdotes of which the Judge is the hero are almost innumerable.”  The bar association voted to wear mourning badges in his honor for thirty days.

        Ironically for a lawyer and judge, Herman died without a will.  But there is a probate file connected with sorting out his estate. The file notes that Herman died with eleven grown children and no widow.  David and Herman, sons by Herman’s third wife, were administrators of the estate, along with Clarence Buel, who may have been a brother-in-law, and M.C. VanBuskirk.

       It does seem that Herman Knickerbacker was a generous man, perhaps too generous. Former law partner Job Pierson stated in his funeral speech that “it was his misfortune through life to risk his credit for his friends until at length …at the close of life he was robbed of that affluence which ….had enabled him to entertain his friends with princely magnificence.” The Surrogate placed notices in the local papers calling any creditors to come forward. Herman’s estate was inventoried and its contents had to be sold at a public auction and a private sale in February 1855, so that expenses of the estate could be paid. The public sale brought $620. The real estate brought $2,350. Funeral expenses were about $110, including $40 for a modest tombstone, paid to grandson John Hale Knickerbocker; $27.50 for a mahogany coffin; and $7 to Reverend Roberts, who officiated at the funeral. Son David received $507 to cover his expenses, and the attorney got $90.  Old law partner Job Pierson received about $110, from an old dispute, and physician Ezekiel Baker, $55.

       A closer examination of the inventory shows a library of about 150 volumes, including biographies of famous people, such as Jefferson and Washington, 17 volumes of Shakespeare, and an 8-volume history of England. The most valuable piece of furniture was a marble mantle clock valued at $10.  Possible proof of the entertaining Knickerbacker did is seen in the total of 83 chairs of different types in the inventory! How many chairs do you have in your house?

        I would love to see the “old Dutch Clock” listed, worth $2, or the several “pictures” and “paintings,” or the mahogany cradle worth $3.  Was that clock a family heirloom? There was also a teapot, sugar, and creamer valued at $20, the largest single sum on the list, and a wide variety of other household belongings. There was little in the way of farm implements, and no farm products (except for a ton of hay) or animals. Evidently that had been sold or given away earlier. There were several vehicles: a lumber wagon, two cutters (sleighs), and one “covered carriage” valued at $15. All in all, this seems a paltry estate for such a prominent man. It also seems sad that there wasn’t a will, where there could have been personal bequests to his many children. Perhaps he took care of that in life, giving mementos and financing to his children as they grew up and moved away.

       Let me add a note on a couple of Herman’s sons.  Abraham, born in 1802, is listed in the 1850 census as a farmer with an estate of $15,000. He and his (second) wife Mary had two sons living at home. John Hale, age 21, was listed as a student, and son Henry, 17, as a farmer. Mother-in-law Mary Hale lived in the home, along with one Irish farm hand, one black laborer, and two Irish serving girls. Jon Stevens of Easton, the absolute expert on Knickerbockers, says that Abraham had also been involved with his father in manufacturing.

       Herman’s son David Buel, born in 1833 and older than nephew John Hale, attended TrinityCollege in Hartford, Connecticut, then the General Theological Seminary in New York City. Perhaps he was at school when his father died in 1855. The next year, David went to the new town of Minneapolis, Minnesota, population 300, as a missionary. He remained there for 27 years, and then became the 3rd Protestant Episcopal Bishop of Indiana. He died in 1894.

      Looking back,  though Herman lived a full life, and was a credit to his community, his much greater legacy is as the inspiration for Washington Irving’s Diedrich Knickerbocker, and as the source for the use of “Knickerbocker” as a symbol of a New Yorker.


Bibliography for the whole series:

“Annals of Albany, 1850-1856” p. 316.

Bielinski, Stefan, biography of John V. Henry and John Wendell online

Congressional Biography, online

Scribner’s Dictionary of American Biography, online

“Troy Post” articles: April 13, 20, 1813; Apr 18, 1815

“Goshen Patriot”, Apr 6, 1819

“Geneva Gazette”, Feb 28, 1816

“Military Minutes of the Council of Appointment of NYS” 1801

“Albany Evening Journal” Apr 30, 1833

“NY Sun”, Feb 9, 1908

“St. Lawrence Plain Dealer”, Nov 30, 1876


“Emma Willard and her Pupils”, ed. By Mrs. Fairbanks, 1898.

Records of the Schaghticoke Dutch Reformed and PresbyterianChurches

Website of the Knickerbocker Historical Society

Various census records for Schaghticoke

Probate records in Rensselaer County Historical Society

“Troy Times” Feb 2, 1855

Cemetery records, town of Schaghticoke

Deeds with Herman Knickerbocker as grantor/grantee: Rensselaer County Courthouse annex








More on Schaghticoke Indians and the Earliest Portrait of a Resident of Schaghticoke!?

            Recently I read The River Indians: Mohicans Making History, a 2009 book by Shirley Dunn, who wrote two earlier books on the topic. The Mahican or Mohican Indians who lived along the Hudson River north of Kingston were called “the River Indians” in colonial documents. The Schaghticoke Indians were part of that group.

Of course I looked for new information (to me) about the Schaghticoke Indians in the book. One item was that  through the first half of the 18th century, the colonial governors of New York attended yearly conferences in Albany with representatives of the Mohicans. This would have included sachems, or chiefs, of the Schaghticokes. They received necessary supplies, including gunpowder, lead, hatchets, blankets, knives, and, unfortunately, rum.  I like to think of the sachems of the Schaghticokes making the yearly trek to Albany.

As a child, I learned that the Iroquois Indians lived west of the Hudson Riverand the Mohicans to the east. Mrs. Dunn proves that until losing battles to the Iroquois Mohawks in 1629, Mohican territory extended at least as far west as Schenectady. This means that the Mohicans owned the Cohoes Falls- indeed just in 2011, ancestral sacred land at the Falls was returned to the Mohicans.

When the Mohawks began selling land to the white settlers, it wasn’t the agonizing event you might suspect- they first sold land that they had won from the Mohicans just a few years before. Some land the Mohawks sold was originally in the territory of the Schaghticokes, including the whole Hoosic River drainage. This had been their hunting grounds. Mrs. Dunn quotes a reminiscence written in the 1800’s, which noted that through the first half of the 1800’s, there were isolated wigwams located throughout Washington County. Indians used them as hunting camps, returning to their permanent villages- probably at Schaghticoke and Stockbridge,Massachusetts.

The Mohawks and Mohicans reconciled their differences in the face of the greater threat to them from numerous  white settlers. As early as 1703, the Mohawks invited the Schaghticokes, to join them along the Susquehanna River. They were also anxious to increase their own population. Some Schaghticokes did move, telling the officials in Albany, who did not want them to move, that they were going to a place where Mohicans used to live. There were Mohican villages along the Susquehanna River until they were destroyed in the Sullivan-Clinton expedition during the Revolutionary War in 1777.

A couple of beliefs I have long held were confirmed in Mrs. Dunn’s book:   One, that while a few Mohicans continued to live in their old territory for many years, the Schaghticokes had all left by 1755.  Two, that there is no connection between the Schaghticoke Indian reservation at Kent,Connecticut and the Schaghticokes here. Mrs. Dunn treats them as two totally different populations. Over the years, I have received many inquiries on both topics- from people who are sure that Indians lived here through the 1900’s, and from others who are sure that when the Schaghticokes left here they went to Connecticut.  I am grateful to Mrs. Dunn for her careful research which makes our local Indian history more complete.

Coincidentally, I recently came across another newish book on the Indians who lived up and down the Hudson River when the Europeans arrived: First Manhattans: a history of the Indians of Greater NY by Robert S Grumet. I always check the index of any book about Indians for Schaghticoke, and to my surprise, this book had many listings. Unfortunately, this is a condensation by the author of a huge book on the same topic, leaving out the footnote citations. I don’t like to relate information to you without knowing exactly where it came from. I will just share a bit of the new-to-me facts that Mr. Grumet included.

First, Mr. Grumet really emphasized the importance of the Mahican settlement at Schaghticoke to colonial history. In 1679, the River Indians reported to the Indian commissioners in Albany that they had divided themselves in two, with one sachem ruling those living south of Albany, and one, based at Schaghticoke, ruling those north of Albany. Through the book, he cites the concern of the Indian commissioners for the settlement at Schaghticoke, the participation of Schaghticoke Indians in English expeditions against the French and Indians, and the central location of Schaghticoke on the smuggling route between Canada and Albany.

Second, Mr. Grumet calls the subject of this only known portrait of a Mohican/Mahican Indian a Schaghticoke. In 1710, Peter Schuyler, Indian Commissioner in Albany, accompanied three Mohawk and one Mahican sachems on a trip to London. The stated purpose of the trip was to ask for Christian missionaries to be sent to the Indians, but the real purpose was to plead for British help in launching an invasion of French Canada. The four Indians were referred to as “the four Indian Kings of America,” and created a sensation inLondon. They were exhibited on stage on several occasions. They had their portraits painted and had an audience with Queen Anne, who gave them the blankets and shirts which they wear in the portraits. She did send a large expeditionary force to attack Canada and Acadia, and had a mission built at Fort Hunter, out the Mohawk River.

The Mahican on the journey was Etowaukaum, a sachem, also known as Nicholas. He was about forty years old in 1710, and had had considerable experience fighting against the French and their Indian allies and leading his people. Just that he was chosen for the journey abroad indicates his importance to his people.  Shirley Dunn states that the thunderbird tattoos which appear on his face in the portrait indicate that he was a shaman or healer; and he signed with a turtle on a document in England, indicating that was his clan. She states that he was certainly the most important man of his tribe, and speculates that his inclusion in this trip might mean he had been baptized, and that he had many contacts with the Mohawks, the other “Kings.” He lived until about 1734, when he signed a deed near Nassau in RensselaerCounty.  While Mrs. Dunn writes in detail about Etowaukaum, it was Mr. Grumet who added that he was a Schaghticoke.

While we will probably never know the truth, I find it wonderful to think about this flexible and resilient man, who was able to survive epidemics of small pox; chaos of several wars, both Indian and colonial; military expeditions to Canada; numerous conferences with Europeans; and an arduous journey to London. He probably lived in several locations during a long life, but I like to think about him having seen the same view of the falls of the Hoosic River as  us!

Dunn, Shirley, The River Indians, 2009.

Grumet, Robert, First Manhattans, U. of Oklahoma Press, 2011.