The Old New York Frontier/Part 8/Chapter 1

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Part 8. The Restoration of the Frontier (1782 – 1800)
Chapter 1. Return of the Former Settlers (1782 – 1788)

WITH the close of the war, the way lay open for repeopling these valleys. On the Mohawk and Schoharie, some signs of civilization had survived. Those valleys had never been entirely depopulated. War had despoiled them much later than the Susquehanna. Their crowning misfortunes were among the last incidents of the conflict and they had never been actually abandoned. The return of peace saw their surviving male adults returning to their former homes from disbanded regiments, or removing to the Susquehanna, and their old men, women, and children emerging from block-houses. As Stone remarks, those valleys "soon smiled through their tears." New and substantial courage must have come to these people, as, on the one hand, they looked into the future, with its splendid promises, and, on the other, recalled the past with its

old, unhappy, far-off things,

And battles long ago.

But on the Susquehanna was found a region entirely desolate. It virtually contained no inhabitants. Nature once more was in full possession of it. Something perhaps of what had been still remained, since clearings existed which the forest had not entirely reclaimed. Here and there stood the remains of log dwellings that might be reconstructed and made habitable. On the upper waters, lay one of the fairest portions of a fair valley, with fertile lands bordering the Great Island River. Over these lands and along the surface of this river it was certain that the warlike Iroquois would roam no more.

The valley had continued to be a resort of Indians more or less hostile until the treaty of peace was signed. Brant is known to have been at Oghwaga and Unadilla, and it is also true that wandering companies of Indians were there until a period long subsequent to the peace; but these survivals were few in numbers, and were often Oneidas friendly to the settlers. Cooper delayed the farewell of Leather Stocking to Otsego Lake until 1794, when he put these words into his hero’s mouth:

When I look about me at these hills where I used to could count sometimes twenty smokes, curling over the tree tops from the Delaware camps, it raises mournful thoughts to think that not a red skin is left of them all, unless it be a drunken vagabond from the Oneidas, or them Yankee Indians who, they say, be moving up from the sea shore. Well, well! The time has come at last and I must go.

Men born to toil and veterans of war took up these new tasks in the wilderness. The first to enter the Susquehanna, came from the Mohawk and Schoharie. A number arrived between the surrender of Cornwallis and the conclusion of the treaty of peace, including Isaac Collier, who entered by Otsego Lake as early as 1782. Mr. Collier was of German descent and before the war had been a taxpayer in the Mohawk Valley. He was the father of Peter Collier. On the Susquehanna he opened a hotel, at the settlement since called after him, where pioneers long found food and shelter. [Colliersville]

To Cherry Valley in the spring of 1783, returned Colonel Campbell with his family, to find the settlement in a state of utter desolation. He proceeded to erect a log-hut, which, a few months later, sheltered distinguished visitors. In the summer of this year George Washington ascended the Mohawk and passed over to the head waters of the Susquehanna. In a letter to the Marquis de Chastelleux, dated in October, he says he "traversed the country to the eastern branch of the Susquehanna and viewed the Lake Otsego and the portage between that lake and the Mohawk River at Canajoharie." He was accompanied by Governor Clinton, General Hand and others, and spent a night under Colonel Campbell’s roof. On the following morning, he went over to the lake. At the Campbell residence, Auchenbreck, visitors may see today the site of an apple-tree beneath which Washington drank tea. Governor Clinton remarked to Mrs. Campbell during the visit, that her sons would some day make fine soldiers; to which she answered that she “hoped her country never would need their services." "I hope so, too," said Washington, "for I have seen enough of war."

Washington was much impressed by the opportunity which the valley gave for communication by water with regions south and west. The same conclusions seem to have been reached by him that had been formed by Cadwallader Colden nearly fifty years before when Surveyor-General of the Province. Washington wrote in the letter, already quoted from:

Prompted by these actual observations, I could not help taking more comprehensive and extensive views of the vast inland navigation of these United States, from maps and the information of others, and could not but be struck with the immense diffusion and importance of it, and with the goodness of that providence which has dealt her favors to us with so profuse a hand. Would to God we may have wisdom enough to improve them..

To Middlefield soon returned former settlers, and to Springfield several of those who had seen their homes destroyed by Brant, while to Richfield came the Tunnicliffes, and to Harpersfield in 1783, or the next year, the Harpers – John, William, Alexander, and Joseph – all but the last named being now military officers, and the women of the family com-ing from Windsor, Conn.

Matthew Cully, in 1783, returned to his lands at the mouth of the Cherry Valley Creek. Below Portlandville in 1788 he built a grist-mill, and four years later his brother built a saw-mill. Following the Cullys in 1784 came Colonel John Moore, a family named Ford, and then Abraham and Jacob Beals.

A contemporary of Peter Collier was John Van Der Werker, who settled on the river near Oneonta Village and built a grist-mill. Van Der Werker had been in the valley with Henry Scramling before the war, and with Scramling returned as soon as the conflict ceased. With Scramling came his two brothers, David and George, and their brothers-in-law, David and John Young. During the war, the father of the Scramlings had been killed by the Indians, and David and George had been in Canada as captives. David’s wife had also been a prisoner. To Oneonta came Adam Quackenbush and Simeon Walling. Mr. Walling had gone down the valley in 1779 with General Clinton, and now took up lands at the old Indian village since known as the Slade farm. In Oneonta several others settled about 1786 or later, including Aaron Brink, Baltus Himmel north of the village, and Abraham Houghtaling and Peter Schwartz in the north part of the town.

Still further down the river, in what is now Otego, the Ogdens arrived to take up their old lands. One of the family had been made a prisoner by Brant at the siege of Fort Schuyler, and carried to Canada. Traces of Teutonic influence may be found elsewhere on the Susquehanna. Perhaps one exists in Unadilla in the name of an old mill-race called the Binnekill.[1] But so much of it as ever existed in Unadilla was soon extinguished by stronger influences from Connecticut. Teutonic folks and the Yankees did not live at peace in those pioneer times. Theirs was a state, sometimes of war, sometimes of armed neutrality; but seldom one of peace.[2]

[1] From binnen, meaning inner, and kill, a creek.
[2] Out of this condition seems to have grown an early colloquial name for what is now the large and thriving town of Oneonta – the largest town in the valley above Binghamton – Klipnockie.

The Johnstons of Sidney, in May, 1784, set out to return from their temporary home in Florida, Montgomery County. In 1783 the father, the Rev. William Johnston, had delivered a sermon on the conclusion of the treaty of peace, and not long afterward breathed his last. Mr. Johnston, after the massacre of Cherry Valley, had gone to Schenectady, where he remained two years and then went to Florida. With the widow came back Witter and Hugh Johnston, and the daughters.

It is probable that others came with them, including David McMaster, whose life the Johnstons had saved at Cherry Valley. On the farm owned in late years by Mr. Deyo the Johnstons spent their first season, reluctant to occupy the lands across the river where it is probable that Indians were still living. On crossing to their old home the next season, they built a log-house on Brunt Hill and lived there until they erected a frame dwelling.

On the Unadilla River settled Jonathan Spencer. He had served in the war, and came from Florida bringing with him a son named Orange, who was a surveyor. His household goods were transported by boat from the lake or from Cherry Valley to a farm about one mile below Rockdale. He had six other sons, and his descendants have continued to be numerous in the Susquehanna valley. His wife long survived him. Mr. Rogers well remembered sitting at her knee in boyhood to hear stirring tales of war in the Mohawk Valley. At Fort Plain she had herself stood guard in a block-house while the men were away on duty.