History of the Town of Schaghticoke

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

Schaghticoke in 1813, according to Horatio Gates Spafford

When I began writing a newspaper column in September 2010 the idea was to work systematically and chronologically through the history of the town. I got to about 1800 and got distracted by things like the history of the churches, the industrial revolution, the biographies of industrialists, military men, and local Congressmen, the bicentennial of the War of 1812, and primarily by the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. Still to come is a history of the Catholic Church and of schools in town, plus further information on the Civil War- through the whole upcoming year- and the upcoming centennial of World War I. I have done lots of research and writing about Schaghticoke in the 1800’s, and would like to try to draw a portrait of the town as it industrialized and developed in the first quarter of the century.
There are a couple of sources of information for this task: two “Gazetteers of New York” published by Horatio Gates Spafford in 1813 and 1824, and a couple of N.Y.S. Censuses: 1814, 1821, and 1825; and the federal censuses of 1800, 1810, and 1820. As with all sources, these are subject to errors. An extra problem is that, as I have noted before, the boundaries of the town changed in 1819, when the part from the Deep Kill south was taken from Schaghticoke and added to Lansingburgh. This would definitely impact the population and other statistics.
I will quote the whole passage in the 1813 Gazetteer about the town, providing commentary as I go. I have to say that my first inclination was to accept what was written as true, but of course Mr. Spafford’s work would be as subject to errors as anyone else’s. Indeed, from what I have read of him, he was a polymath or Renaissance man, trying to do everything, but without the funds. He was an inventor, geographer and writer, correspondent of Thomas Jefferson. He wanted to publish a Gazetteer for the whole country, but his finances limited him to New York State.
In the introduction, he states that he traveled to some of the more remote counties himself, and had some “Agents” collect material, but that primarily he sent questionnaires to prominent men in each county, town, and hamlet, and used their answers to write his book. Indeed, each section ends with a number of initials, presumably those of the contributors, but I can’t find a list of them in the book. Of course the quality of the material sent in would have varied greatly.
Spafford’s Gazetteer of 1813, entry for Schaghticoke*
(The asterisk sends the reader to this at the bottom of the page:) “This name, so long, crooked and hard that it puzzles every body, is said to have originated with the Mohawk Indians._ The original was Scaugh wank, a name by them applied to a sand-slide of near 200 yards elevation, extending for a considerable distance along the right bank of Hoosac creek, under an angle of about 60 degrees with the horizon. When the Dutch settled here, they added Hook to the name, now Schaghticoke Point.”
Well, this is the only place I have ever seen that talks about this a source of the name Schaghticoke. The Schaghticoke Indians were Mahicans- of the big language group of New England Indians- foes of the Mohawks, part of the Iroquois Confederacy. And I have been told that the word, which is also used by the Schaghticoke Indians near Kent, Connecticut, means something like where the waters mingle. Schaghticoke Point was the first name of the village of Schaghticoke. There is a major bend in the Hoosick River there, just before it goes over the falls, forming a point of land. But, again, according to all my research, this area wasn’t even settled until after the first bridge was put over the river at that point, about 1790. The map of the area of Dutch settlement at Schaghticoke from that time does not include that part of the river, merely noting the presence of the bridge over the river.
Spafford begins this entry:
Schaghticoke, a Post-Township, in the N.W. corner of Rensselaer County, on the E. shore of the Hudson, 10 miles N. of Troy, and 20 from Albany, bounded N. by Washington County, E. by Pittstown, S. by Lansingburgh, W. by the Hudson, or the County of Saratoga. It extends along the Hudson, 11 miles and along the line of Washington county, about 10, in a narrow strip of land formed by the course of Hoosac creek. The surface is moderately uneven, and the soil good for grain and grass. The Schaghticoke flats have long been celebrated for their richness and fertility, and the uplands have a soil of loam and some clay and sand. Hoosac creek, a large mill-stream, receives in this Town Tomhanoc creek, and these supply abundance of mill-seats.
This seems a pretty straight-forward description, interesting to me because of its emphasis on the soils. The “Schaghticoke flats” would be the area around the Knickerbacker Mansion, the first area of European settlement. I know that the soil of my farm has both sand and clay, and almost no rocks. We mostly don’t think of the Hoosic River and Tomhannock Creek in terms of their usefulness for water power for mills- but 1813 was the beginning of the industrial age in upstate New York, and it focused on sources of water power.
At the mouth of the Hoosac creek is a small village called Schaghticoke-Point, consisting of 15 houses; and here is the Post-Office, 20 miles north of Albany. It is situated in the N.W. corner of the town; and in the S. part, on the Northern turnpike, is another small village called Speigle-Town. The Northern turnpike from Lansingburgh to the N.E. part of Washington County, and another road of considerable travel to Whitehall, lead through this Town, besides many other common and very good roads.
This section confirms the small size of the new village of Schaghticoke, located where the new bridge crosses the Hoosic River. However, to me the mouth of a river is where it enters a larger body of water, and the village is certainly not at the mouth of the Hoosic, which would be where it enters the Hudson River. Spafford also calls our attention to Speigle-Town, located on the Northern Turnpike, at the junction of that turnpike with the road to Vermont, now Fogarty Road, and establishes it as the only other node of settlement in the town. I’m not sure what road he means led to Whitehall, which is in the same direction as Granville, the end of the Northern Turnpike.

He continues…
There are 3 houses of worship: 2 Reformed Dutch, and a Presbyterian; and 11 school-houses- There are 12 grain mills, 11 saw mills, an oil-mill, fulling-mill, and 2 carding machines; and 2 companies are incorporated for manufacturing purposes, one for cotton and the other for linen, and their works are probably in operation at this time.
There were three churches in town at the time, but one was Dutch Reformed, one Lutheran, and one Presbyterian. The town had just been divided into eleven school districts by the new New York State school law, so that part of the entry is correct. As for eleven “grain” or grist mills, I have found there was one grist mill on the Deep Kill, at the border with the town of Pittstown; and three on the Tomhannock: one near where Route 40 crosses it, and two on Buttermilk Falls Road, one by the falls where the road crosses and another on what is now the Denison Farm. There was one on a stream north of the Hoosic River, and three at various places in the gorge of the Hoosic at the village of Schaghticoke. That adds up to eight.
Moving on to saw mills, I have found mention of one on the Deep Kill; one on a small stream emptying into the Hudson just south of Hemstreet Park; two on the Tomhannock, one near where it passes under Route 40 and one near the Denison Farm on Buttermilk Falls Road; one on the Wampanaconk near where it enters the Hoosic, up Masters Street; and one on the Hoosic at the village. That adds up to just six. I would say that saw mills can/could be very short-lived enterprises, very subject to availability of timber and to fire. They could also be seasonal, operating just in the spring, when a small stream would have enough water to run a mill. They could have missed documentation by the historians. Also, there were a keg mill and a turning mill on the Tomhannock, which could have been labelled saw mills, I suppose, as they both dealt in wood.
An oil mill processed flax seed, producing hard cakes, which were broken up for animal feed, and oil, used in both food and industry. The only oil mill I have heard of in connection with Schaghticoke was in the southern part of town- its name remains on the section of road known as “Oil Mill Hill.” The other mills Spafford mentions were at the new village of Schaghticoke. There were certainly a carding machine or two, which helped prepare raw wool for spinning, and a fulling mill, which did final processing of woolen cloth woven by hand. And Spafford implies that the cotton and linen factories were begun, but maybe not operating yet. According to what I have read, they were in operation by 1813. Spafford does not mention the machine shop, in operation as early as 1800, or a bellows factory on the Tomhannock, in operation as early as the Revolution. There was also the Farmers Manufacturing Company, which aimed to manufacture “woolen, cotton, and linen goods, … glass, and from ore, bar iron, anchors, mill-irons, steel, nail rods, hoop iron, (and other iron goods).” This enterprise did not succeed, but was in business at the time of the Gazetteer, as were several flax mills- not to make cloth but to process the flax grown, and a factory which spun thread from cotton.
So Spafford got some things right, but missed others.

He concluded:
The lands are held by different tenures, some in fee, some by permanent, and some by temporary leases. In 1810 the whole taxable property was $302,493, $32,294 of which was personal property; the whole population was 2492, including 94 slaves, and there were 229 senatorial electors. About the commencement of the 18th century some German and Dutch families settled on the rich alluvial lands of this Town, then occupied by a clan of the Mohawk Indians. M.S, D.O.G., & B.S.
Well, Spafford was correct that some Dutch families rented land beginning at the start of the 1700’s. They rented land owned by the city of Albany up until just about the time Spafford was writing his Gazetteer, when they got to buy the land. The land was occupied by Schaghticoke Indians, who were most definitely not Mohawks. I am a bit surprised that there was this confusion so close to the time when the Schaghticoke had lived here- 1750- but that may have been a function of who the men were who provided the information. There were German settlers, but they arrived at the time of the Revolution, and bought their land, for the most part.
As to the population and property data, that came directly from the U.S. census of 1810. In 1790, the population had been 1650. In 1814, the population was 2847, an increase of about 400 in just four years. The town was growing fast, to be expected with the beginning of the new nation and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The number of senatorial electors reflects that there was still a property qualification for voting in some elections.
This was the period of gradual emancipation of slaves in New York State. In 1790 there had been 143 slaves in Schaghticoke, but now some had died, and some had been emancipated. In 1790 virtually all the slave owners were descendants of the original Dutch inhabitants of town. In 1810, most of the slave owners were still those folks, most with from one to four slaves, but Nicholas Masters had four slaves, and a man named J. Fish had seven. Congressman Herman Knickerbacker had four and his brothers John and William nine and five slaves respectively. A few men listed one or two slaves and one or two free blacks in their households, including Charles Joy, who was a new mill owner from Boston.
I would love to know who those correspondents were, the M.S., D.O.G., and B.S. who provided the information about Schaghticoke to Horatio Spafford. In the 1810 census, there is one man, B. Sanford, with the intials B.S., and three with the initials D.G.- D.O Gillett actually has all three initials, plus D. Grawbarger and D. Groesbeck. The latter two would have been the descendants of very early Dutch settlers of the town, but I have never heard of Gillett or Sanford- they certainly were not prominent citizens of town. However, though he was not in the census, the M.S. was certainly Munson Smith, who was town supervisor off and on from 1807 through the 1820’s.


2 responses to “Schaghticoke in 1813, according to Horatio Gates Spafford

  1. jay Morris April 11, 2014 at 11:27 pm

    I always look foreword to your posts and discovering the history of the region,such as the early New York censuses.Do they still exist ?. What details did they contain ? thank you-jay

    • schaghticokehistory April 14, 2014 at 9:31 am

      Hello Jay. The content of the NYS census varied with the year. Early ones- like 1821- were just summaries for each town. Later ones, like 1855, 1865, 1875, are more like the US census. The 1865 census includes details about the men from each town in the Civil War. Those censusus are available for free at http://www.familysearch.org. the 1865 census is not indexed, but the section for each town is very short and doesn’t take long to scroll through. I hope this helps. Chris

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