History of the Town of Schaghticoke

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

Schaghticoke in 1824

The last post analyzed the entry for Schaghticoke in Horatio Spafford’s 1813 “Gazetteer of New York.” Mr. Spafford, strapped for money, had ambitions to write many more Gazetteers, covering a wider geographical area, but was only able to produce one other edition, another New York Gazetteer in 1824. He died in 1832 and is buried in the cemetery of the Lutheran Church in Lansingburgh, NY.
As one would expect, much of what Spafford published in 1824 was a duplicate of the 1813 edition. Things such as history and land types would be unchanged, one would think, but let’s see what had changed in the entry for Schaghticoke. To begin with, Schaghticoke was now 16 rather than 20 miles from Albany, though still 10 miles north of Troy. My GPS tells me that it’s 19 miles from Schaghticoke to Albany, though who knows where the measurements would begin or end, then or now.
Spafford caught one major change in the town…its boundaries. As he wrote, “In March of 1819 a strip of land across the S. end of this town was annexed to Lansingburgh, bounded N. by the Deepy Kill (sic), a small brook, now the line between this town and Lansingburgh, the transferred territory being as near as I can find out, about 2 miles wide.” This is true. As I have written before, I have been unable to discover why this alteration was made. It lasted until 1912, when the boundaries were restored.
Spafford paid very close attention to details, as in 1813 he consistently referred to the Hoosic River as “Hoosac creek”, but now more correctly calls it “Hoosac River.” He still mis-locates the village of Schaghticoke at the “mouth” of the Hoosac River, but has increased its size, from 15 to 25 houses. He still reports three churches, with 2 Reformed Dutch- incorrect. There were still a Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Dutch Reformed Church in town. In 1813 he described that some land was held by leases, and he repeats that statement, which I now think would be incorrect. I believe the leases of the land owned by the city of Albany were all converted to ownership by 1824. He also makes an unfortunate typographical error. The 1813 version correctly stated that European families first settled Schaghticoke in the early 18th century; the 1824 edition makes that the 16th century, very incorrect, and potentially very confusing to the reader.
As in 1813, Spafford reported the population statistics for the town. I believe he got the data from the U.S. Census of 1820. Unfortunately, the totals reported for the town are very faint in the online version, but a few of the numbers match up with the 1824 Gazetteer, hence my conclusion. The 1820 census added a bit more information, and Spafford included that: “Population 2522; 579 farmers, 8 traders, 153 mechanics; 10 foreigners; 37 free blacks, 59 slaves.” The number of farmers is actually 597 on the census, the number just transposed. The 8 “traders” were described on the census as “engaged in commerce,” which would imply storekeepers more than traders to me. The 153 mechanics were described as “engaged in manufacture,” which would include men who owned and worked in mills of different kinds. It is difficult to compare these numbers to the 1813 Gazetteer, as the town was now physically smaller. But to me the fact that the town still had a slightly higher population total in 1820 (2522 to 2492) means that it was still growing quite rapidly. Also, the drop from 94 to 59 slaves shows that gradual emancipation was still proceeding. It was to be complete in 1827.
The Schaghticoke entry continued, reporting “ taxable property $456228; 11 schools, 11 months in 12; $394.34;762;633; 475 electors, 14864 acres improved land, 2412 cattle, 546 horses, 4765 sheep; 17816 yards cloth; 3 grist mills, 6 saw mills, 2 fulling mills, 2 carding machines, 2 cotton and woolen factories. A.L.C, M.S., D.O.G., B. S.”
Let’s take a closer look at that string of numbers. I’m not sure of the source of the taxable property number- it was either the 1820 U.S. census or the 1821 N.Y.S. census, which Spafford used for the rest of this entry. Whichever, it is a huge increase over the $302,493 in the 1813 edition, despite the decrease in the size of the town. There were still 11 school houses in town, and the entry reports that students attended 11 months of 12 in the year. I find that astounding, as my previous research has shown that students mostly attended school in the winter months, and certainly never more than nine months of the year.
I looked back at the beginning of the Gazetteer to figure out the next numbers: $394.34;762;633 In 1821 the schools cost $394.34 in public money, and of 762 children in town between the ages of 5 and 15, 633 attended school sometime during the year. From the perspective of 2014, we certainly find the amount of money astonishingly small. To me it seems that the percentage of students attending school was quite high, but who knows how often they attended. Presumably the 129 students who did not attend included a few 5 and 6-year-olds whose parents didn’t want to have them start school yet, but were mostly children over 10 or 12, whose parents needed them to work, either on the farm or in mills for a wage. In my personal research I found that even in the 1870’s many boys attended school in the winter, but didn’t go back for the spring term, when they were needed on the farms. The number of electors had certainly grown a lot from the 229 in the 1813 edition, but that may reflect a change in the voting laws, allowing men with less land to vote.
Just to give a bit of perspective, the Gazetteer reported that the town of Pittstown was quite a bit larger than Schaghticoke, with 3,772 people, with 15 schools and 997 students, 30,838 acres of improved land, about twice as many cattle, horses and sheep, 23 saw mills, and 1 distillery! In 2010, Pittstown had a population of 5,735 and Schaghticoke 7,679. Of course our town is now restored to its pre-1819 borders.
The number of grist and saw mills in Schaghticoke has changed quite a bit from the 1813 Gazetteer: from 12 to 3 grist mills, and 11 to 6 saw mills. A few mills were lost with the reduction in town size, but this may reflect survival of the fittest. The other mills remained the same. I would say that the wool from the almost 5000 sheep certainly provided the raw material to the woolen mills.
As before, the initials at the end of the article are the contributors. The last three are the same as in 1813, but A.L.C. is new. There are two candidates for the A.L.C.: Allen Cornell was the Schaghticoke town clerk from 1816-1819 and Allen Conner was the Justice of the Peace beginning in 1823. Cornell seems the better choice, as he would have had access to data. As before, the M.S. was certainly Munson Smith, who was town supervisor during much of the period. The contributors seem to have given very little information to Spafford. For example, the Pittstown entry includes description of types of trees and sheep, and praise for the farmers and mill owners in the town. Spafford didn’t edit to a completely dry account. At the time it probably didn’t seem important to Mr. Smith; it’s only now that we would love to have known more about our town in its early days. Spafford’s list of contributors inspired me to research more about Munson Smith. In the following weeks, I will share the wealth of information that I was surprised to find.


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