History of the Town of Schaghticoke

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

Tag Archives: American Revolution

Schaghticoke in the American Revolution, Major VanVeghten scalped

The surrender of Burgoyne at Saratoga in 1777 was looked upon as the "turning point of the Revolution" , but this area was dangerous through the end of the war.

          In the last post, I related a Knickerbocker family legend that the fort near the Mansion was occupied by Hessian soldiers at the time of the battle of Saratoga. Though I doubt very much that that was true, there is no doubt that there were bands of Tories, Indians, and perhaps Hessians and British roaming through the area during the summer of 1777 before the battle of Saratoga. Major Dirck VanVeghten of the  local militia unit, the 14th Albany County, was killed by one band when he came from Saratoga just before the battle to check on his home in Schaghticoke. One source states that VanVeghten came home on “an intelligence gathering mission.” In either event,  he was accompanied only by Solomon Acker, one of  the soldiers in his company of the 14th Albany County Militia.

            The story of Major VanVeghten really illustrates the great variety that can exist in the supposedly factual reporting of an incident. Solomon Acker was the only source for this story, and his account must have varied  widely as he told that story many times over the years. In his  Revolutionary War pension papers, Mr. Acker states he was with Major VanVeghten at Schaghticoke  in July 1777 when VanVeghten was “shot by the Indians,” and that Mr. Acker killed one of the Indians himself. He states, “Immediately I raised a guard and warned the inhabitants, and assisted them in removing to Albany.” Sylvester, in his  History of Rensselaer County sets the event in August, and describes the area as deserted, as everyone had already evacuated to Albany. He states the men were on the land of Jacob Yates, when “they were fired upon by Indians or perhaps Tories.” He adds that VanVeghten was shot through the tobacco box, which was handed down in his family, and that the Major, realizing that he was mortally wounded, yelled, ”Solomon, take care of yourself; you cannot save me.”  Acker fled reluctantly, “with the bullets pattering around him,” reaching the Army safely. Mr. Acker told this story, apparently much embroidered from the version in the pension papers, to two local men,who told it to Sylvester. They even pointed out the spot on the farm of W.V.V. Reynolds where the murder occurred. This was probably near the intersection of  Farm to Market Road and Howland Avenue Extension.

          A memoir written in 1866 by John P. Becker, Sexagenary, Reminiscences of the American Revolution, really takes the story to fiction, describing the circumstances of each shot taken by VanVeghten, Acker, and the enemies, going on to describe Acker’s flight step by step, and stating that when the Americans went to retrieve VanVeghten’s body, they found “ him hacked to pieces and scalped, and…three Indians dead in an adjacent field.” It also places the event as occurring after the battle of Saratoga.  Who knows if Mr. Acker told the story this way or if some source of Becker added to it?  The memoir states that  Van Veghten was buried in Albany, but “his unfortunate wife was not permitted to see the corpse, it was so savagely mutilated.”  Whatever the truth of this particular incident, it confirms the danger in the area during that summer of 1777. It makes the most sense that it happened before the battle, as presumably enemies in the area would have either been captured or have retreated after the battle.

            As I reported earlier posts, the 14th Albany County Militia was certainly called to duty during the summer before and through the time of the battles of  Saratoga. This means that many families were evacuated from home and had to survive without their husbands and fathers, though they may have had help from some militia men during their evacuation. In addition, most people were away from home at harvest time.  After the battle was over,  about 6000 British and Hessian prisoners of war were evacuated to Boston, probably crossing the Hudson in boats or over a bridge of boats at Stillwater, and passing through the town of Schaghticoke. This probably resulted in more damage to fences and farms.

          I find it difficult to look around our town now and imagine it on the edge of the battle that was the turning point of the Revolution, to imagine how I would feel if I were forced to evacuate my home, how I would feel to return home and find my property in ruins.

           During and just after the Revolution, Schaghticoke was not only on the border of American and British territory, but also on a second controversial border. I will discuss that in the next post.

Bibliography:  Fitch, Asa, Their Own Voices, reprint 1983.

                        Kloppott, Beth, History of the Town of Schaghticoke, 1980.

                        Sylvester, Nathan, History of Rensselaer County, 1880.

                      Becker, John P. Sexagenary, Albany, Munsell, 1866.

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Schaghticoke in the American Revolution, militia service

Schaghticoke's men served in the 14th Albany County Militia

            In the last post, I spoke of the first task of each district in the new state of New York when the Revolution began: to establish a Committee of Safety and root out possible Tories in the community. The next task of each new state was to assemble the militia. There were experienced soldiers among the residents of Schaghticoke, thanks to service in the militia in the French and Indian Wars. The laws of New York required that every male between the ages of about 18 and 45 be members of the militia, subject to being called to duty as required. (Indeed, a similar law is still in place in the US.)  The 14th Albany County Militia was the unit that encompassed the Schaghticoke and Hoosick districts. The Schaghticoke District included modern day Pittstown.  On October 20, 1775, John Knickerbocker was appointed the Colonel of the Regiment, which included forty-six officers and 684 men, about 140 of whom were from Schaghticoke.  They were divided into seven companies and a company of “Minute Men,” who presumably would be called on first in an emergency. We know the names of many of the men who served in the 14th Albany Militia, thanks to published compilations of records of the New State of New York.

               We also know about the service of the militia during the war because some of the members of the local militia lived long enough to be able to apply for Revolutionary War pensions. Indigent veterans were first eligible to apply in 1818, and many more applied under a law in 1832. In order to receive a pension, the men had to prove and detail their service in the war.  I have read the pension applications of at least a dozen members of the 14th, and while the details differ, depending on what company the man was in, they all record having been called out to serve once or twice a year from 1775 to 1782, for two to six weeks at a time.  We have to remember that these men were writing at least thirty years after the events occurred, and as old, poor men, probably with imperfect memories. On the other hand, being in a war would certainly be a memorable experience. They served in Saratoga, Ft. Edward, Sandy Hill (Hudson Falls), Ft. George, Skenesborough, and other places in this general area. They mostly garrisoned and built forts and breastworks. Several participated in the battle of Bennington, in August of 1777. Of course, they had to walk everywhere they went, a fact that I think we must think about in imagining their service.

                  It must have been very disruptive to these men, mostly farmers, to be called out unexpectedly over such a number of years. Apparently the commander would call for volunteers among his militia company. If enough men responded, fine, if not, more would be required to serve- or be drafted.  I was surprised to read that after the battle of Saratoga, even after the battle of Yorktown in 1781, citizens in Schaghticoke, and indeed all of the northern colonies, continued to worry about invasion from Canada and raids by Tories.

               In the next post, I will report on the specific experiences of local soldiers during the war, and continue the story of Schaghticoke in the Revolution.

Bibliography:      Fitch, Dr. Asa, Their Own Voices, reprinted 1983

                           Kloppott, Beth, History of the Town of Schaghticoke, 1980

                            Roberts, James, NY in the Revolution as Colony and State, 1898.

                          Various pension papers in Heritagequest.com

Schaghticoke in the American Revolution, first steps

 

                When the American Revolution began in 1775, Schaghticoke was a sparsely populated region. It had been on Albany’s frontier with Canada for many years. The citizens remembered Indian raids in the past, and some of the men had been in the colonial militia during the French and Indian Wars. Some had gone as far as Canada as part of English offensives against the French. There was a small fort in the Albany Corporation Lands, near where the Knickerbocker Mansion is now, but it was made of logs and was in poor condition. The last time it had been garrisoned was probably around 1750.  So while the residents had lived a peaceful life since the end of the French Wars in 1763, they remembered the danger there had been before, and knew that the fort they had would not protect them.

             One of the first tasks of each district of the colony of New York  when the Revolution began was to set up a civilian Committee of Safety, whose task was to  root out Tory or Loyalist activity.  John Knickerbocker, probably the most prominent local citizen, was chairman of the local committee. There was a concern throughout all of the colonies that some if not many people did not support the rebellion against Great Britain.  There was special concern about Loyalists in a frontier area like Schaghticoke, where there could be easy infiltration of the British and their allies. It was necessary to prevent the British from getting support from local residents. In some areas, for example in what is now Washington County, there were many Tories.

           The major accusation of loyalism in Schaghticoke was in June 1779 when  locals Colonel Peter Yates and Major Groesbeck told the Committee of  Safety that several strangers had moved into town who collected cattle for Burgoyne’s Army at the time of the battle of Saratoga, and that “those persons daily obstruct the execution of the orders of the miliita officers.”

          In the end, only fourteen men were arrested on suspicion of Loyalist actions in the Schaghticoke district (which included today’s Pittstown), and none were convicted.  Schaghticoke’s strong Dutch heritage may have  kept Loyalist activity to a minimum.  The Dutch in Albany remembered the British as conquerors in the past and viewed them as economic competitors in the present, so had no great loyalty to Great Britain. Schaghticoke’s government came from Albany, thanks to the dominance in the town of the Albany Corporation Lands. The accused Tories were arrested between 1778 and 1781. Most were released on bail or upon doing service in lieu of bail. Many remained in town after the Revolution, and one, George Wetsel, of the Melrose area, became a prominent citizen.

                The next task of the district of Schaghticoke, was to assemble its militia companies. That will be the topic of the next post.

                Bibliography: Kloppott, Beth, History of Schaghticoke, 1980.

                                      Sylvester, Nathaniel, History of Rensselaer County, 1880.