Learning About New York Part XIV

Schenectady, one of the oldest places in the state, is situated on the Mohawk River, the Erie Canal and Central Railroad, 16 miles N. W. of Albany, and is the terminus of several railroads. It has manufactures of ironware, machinery, etc., and a flourishing trade. Population is about 9,000. Union College, in this city, was incorporated in 1794, and reached its present flourishing condition from a small beginning. A suite of edifices was at the first erected in the heart of the city, the principal one of which was afterward used as a court house. The present location was purchased by the trustees in 1814. Schenectady was settled by whites at a very early date.

"Its name, pronounced by the Indians Schagh-nac-taa-da, signifying "beyond the pine plains," was originally applied to Albany. The compact part of the city was in olden time the site of an Indian village called Con-nugh-harie-gugh-harie, literally, "a great multitude collected together." It is said that it wits the principal seat of the Mohawks, even before the confederacy of the Iroquis, or Five Nations. It was abandoned by them at a very early period in the colonial history. Some time previous to 1620, fifteen or twenty persons, twelve of whom were direct from Holland, and the rest from Albany, settled here for the purpose of carrying on the fur trade. It appears from the Dutch records that the first grant of lands was made in 1661 to Arent Van Corlaer and others, on condition that they purchased the soil from the Indians. The deed was obtained in 1672, and signed by four Mohawk chiefs."

The following account of the destruction of Schenectady by the French and Indians, in 1690, is extracted from Drake's "Book of the Indians:"

After two and twenty days march, the enemy fell in with Schenectady, Feb. 8, 1690. There were about 200 French, and perhaps 50.Caughnewaga Mohawks, and they at first intended to have surprised Albany, but their march had been so long and tedious, occasioned by the deepness of the snow and coldness of the weather, that, instead of attempting any thing offensive, they had nearly decided to surrender themselves to the first English they should meet, such was their distressed situation, in a camp of snow, but a few miles from the devoted settlement. The Indians, however, saved them from the disgrace. They had sent out a small scout from their party, who entered Schenectady without even exciting suspicion of their errand. When they had staid as long as the nature of their business required, they withdrew to their fellows.

Seeing that Schenectady offered such an easy prey, it put new courage into the French, and they came upon it as above related. The bloody tragedy commenced between eleven and twelve o'clock Saturday night, and that every house might be surprised at nearly the same time, the enemy divided themselves into parties of six or seven men each. Although the town was empaled, no one thought it necessary to close the gates, even at night, presuming the severity of the season was a sufficient security; hence the first news of the approach of the enemy was at every door of every house, which doors were broken as soon as the profound slumbers of those they were intended to guard. The same inhuman barbarities now followed that were afterward perpetrated upon the wretched inhabitants of Montreal. "No tongue," said Col. Schuyler, "can express the cruelties that were committed." Sixty-three houses and the church were immediately in a blaze. Enciente women, in their expiring agonies, saw their infants cast into the flames, being first delivered by the knife of the midnight assassin! Sixty-three persons were put to death, and twenty-seven were carried into captivity.

A few persons fled toward Albany, with no other covering but their night clothes, the horror of whose condition was greatly enhanced by a great fall of snow, twenty-five of whom lost their limbs from the severity of the frost. With these poor fugitives came the intelligence to Albany, and that place was in a dismal confusion, having, as usual upon such occasions, supposed the enemy to have been seven times more numerous than they really were. About noon, the next day, the enemy set off from Schenectady, taking all the plunder they could carry with them, among which were forty of the best horses. The rest, with all the cattle, and other domestic animals, lay slaughtered in the streets.

One of the most considerable men of Schenectady, at this time, was Capt. Alexander Glen. He lived on the opposite side of the river, and was suffered to escape, because he had delivered many French prisoners from torture and slavery who had been taken by the Indians in the former wars. They had passed his house in the night, and, during the massacre, he had taken the alarm, and in the morning he was found ready to defend himself. Before leaving the village, a French officer summoned him to a council, upon the shore of the river, with the tender of personal safety. He at length ventured down, and had the great satisfaction of having all his captured friends and relatives delivered to him, and the enemy departed, keeping good their promise that no injury should be done him.

Among those who made a successful defense, and kept the foe at bay, was Adam Vrooman. Being well supplied with ammunition, and trusting to the strength of his building, which was a sort of a fort, he formed the desperate resolution to defend himself to the last extremity, and if it should prove his fate to perish in the ruins of his own domicil, to sell his own life and that of his children as dear as possible. Seconded in his efforts by one of his sons, who assisted in loading his guns, he kept up a rapid and continuous fire upon his assailants, and with the most deadly effect. His house was soon filled with smoke. His wife, nearly suffocated with it, cautiously, yet imprudently, placed the door ajar. This an alert Indian perceived, and, firing through the aperture, killed her. In the mean time, one of his daughters escaped from the back hall door with his infant child in her arms. They snatched the little innocent from her arms and dashed out its brains, and in the confusion of the scene the girl escaped. Their triumph here, however, was of short duration; Mr. Vrooman succeeded in securely bolting the door and preventing the intrusion of any of the enemy. On witnessing Mr. Vrooman's courage, and fearing greater havoc among their chosen band, the enemy promised, if he would desist, to save his life and not set fire to his building. This promise they fulfilled, but carried off two of his sons into captivity.

The following ballad is an interesting relic of antiquity. It was written in 1690, to commemorate the destruction of Schenectady, and is composed something in the style of the celebrated "Chevy Chase":


"In which is set forth the horrid cruelties practiced by the French and Indians on the night of the 8th of last February. The which I did compose last night in the space of one hour, and am now writing, the morning of Friday, June 12, 1690. Walter Willie.


"God prosper long our king and queen,
Our lives and safeties all;
A sad misfortune once there did
Schenectady befall.

From forth the woods of Canada
The Frenchmen tooke their way,
The people of Schenectady
To captivate and slay.

They marched for two and twenty daies,
All through the deepest snow;
And on a dismal winter night
They strucke the cruel blow.

The lightsome sun that rules the day
Had gone down in the west;
And eke the drowsie villagers
Had sought and found their reste.

They thought they wore in saftie all,
And dreampt not of the foe,
But att midnight they all awoke
In wonderment and woe.

For they were in their pleasant beddes,
And soundelie sleeping, when
Each door was sudden open broke
By six or seven men.

The men and women, younge and olde,
And eke the girls and boys.
All started up in great affright
Att the alarming noise.

They then were murther'd in their beddes,
Without shame or remorse;
And soon the floors and streets were strew'd
With many a bleeding corse.

The village soon began to blaze,
Which shew'd the horrid sight--
But, O, I scarce can beare to tell
The miseries of that night.

They threw the infants in the fire,
The men they did not spare;
But killed all which they could find,
Though aged or tho' fair.

O Christe! In the still midnight air
It sounded dismally;
The women's prayers, and the loud screams
Of their great agony.
Methinks as if I hear them now
All ringing in my ear
The shrieks and groans and woeful sighs
They uttered in their fear.

But some run off to Albany,
And told the dolefull tale;
Yet though we gave our chearful aid
It did not much avail.

And we were horribly afraid,
And shook with terror, when
They told us that the Frenchmen were
More than a thousand men.

The news came on the Sabbath morn
Just at the break of day,
And with a companie of horse
I galloped away.

But soon we found the French were gone
With all their great bootye;
And then their trail we did pursue,
As was our true dutye.

The Mohaques joined our brave partye,
And followed in the chase,
Till we came up with the Frenchmen
Att a most likelye place.

Our soldiers fell upon their rear
And killed twenty-five;
Our young men were so much enraged
They took scarce one alive.

D'Aillebout them did commande,
Which were but thievish rogues,
Else why did they consent and goe
With bloodye Indian dogges?

And here I ende the long ballad,
The which you just have redde;
I wish that it may stay on earth
Long after I am dead.


Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: Learning About New York State Part XIV
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Our whole country; or, The past and present of the United States, historical and descriptive. In two volumes By John Warner Barber ... and Henry Howe ...Cincinnati, H. Howe, 1861.
Time & Date Stamp: