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It is now one hundred and thirty-three 37ears since the German emigrants from the Lower Palatinate of the Rhine, to escape from the iron workings of a colonial vassalage more stern, cruel and crushing, than European serfdom in its baldest and most naked form, planted themselves in the upper Mohawk valley, under the benevolent auspices of Governor William Burnet. They came to seek for themselves and their posterity homes and abiding places, where they could enjoy the fruits of their labor and eat the bread of toil, unmolested by imperial hirelings and intrusive taskmasters, and to worship the God of the living and the dead in accordance with a lowly and approving conscience: it is now nearly ninety-eight years since that portion of these people, who had seated themselves on the north side of the Mohawk, at "the German flats," now Herkimer, were unexpectedly assailed by a numerous body of French and Indians, many of them killed, their dwellings and well stored barns plundered and burned, their stock of various kinds also killed or driven off, and finally the survivors carried into captivity: it is now seventy-eight years since the Oriskany battle was fought, or, I might with propriety say, the Oriskany massacre was perpetrated, which disastrous event converted the whole valley into a house of mourning: seventy-two years since peace restored hope, quiet and safety to the desponding husbandman; small consolation to the mourning widow and the homeless orphan: sixty-four years since the county was organized, when peace with all its concomitant blessings had resumed its sway: and no one had yet been found bold or patient enough, to undertake the labor of writing out the annals of Herkimer county.
It was too late by forty years to collect and arrange the early traditional history of the valley, when the writer turned his attention to a subject he had often discussed with others, and with them regretted that the matter had been so long postponed or neglected. I have pursued my original plan and object, projected two years ago, as rapidly as other pursuits and urgent calls in other directions would allow. I have not acomplished in extenso all I designed, and it would be invidious in me to state wherein and why, I have failed. The reader familiar with the history of this state, will at once perceive, I have consulted without stint the Annals of Tryon County, Stone's Life of Brant, Schoharie County and the Border Wars of New York, the Documentary History of New York, Documents relating to the Colonial History of this state, Journals of the New York Provincial Congress, Schoolcraft's Reports on the Iroquois, Hammond's Political History of New York, and Munsell's Typographical Miscellany.
One of the strongest inducements that led me to undertake the task which I have now completed, was to correct as far as I could, some of the grave, and it seemed to me manifest errors or mistakes, which found their way into published works of supposed authenticity, in regard to General Nicholas Herkimer and his family. No author ever spoke of him, to my knowledge, as a brilliantly great man, and no one can with justice or propriety deny that he was a brave and good man; firmly devoted to the provincial cause and American freedom. If a cloud appeared in the distance to hang over him, growing out of the fact that some members of the family were hostile to the movements of the colonists, could it be any fault of his, unless he had the ability to control them, and failed to exert it? But let it be remembered that other members of the same family who survived the General, devoted themselves in the future progress of the war, with zeal and courage in defense of the country.
Another motive prompted me to the undertaking. Herkimer county was one of the first erected after the revolution, and while the surrounding counties, and some of them carved from the territory it once embraced, were esteemed worthy of elaborate historical notice which had been liberally patronized by the populations of those counties, it seemed strange indeed that she should so long have remained neglected and forgotten, like the illustrious individual whose name she bears, and no one of her sons, native or adopted, would venture to place her in a just position. All that portion of the book compiled from public works and documents, such as the origin of the titles to lands, the description and boundaries of the county and the towns, and the statistical and other information derived from the recent census, may be relied upon as strictly and critically accurate.
Heretofore, several, if I may not say many, of the political men of the county, have held not only reputable, but high positions in the councils of the state, and some of those, who are now dead, have left an enduring impress of their talents and exertions upon the political institutions of the state. The somewhat peculiar political characteristics, which have heretofore marked the action of a considerable majority of the voting population of the county, seemed to me a matter worthy of elaborate consideration. Why two peoples, distinct in their origin, dissimilar in tastes, habits and customs, should harmonize on a great political problem for a period of more than fifty years, and in numbers to carry almost every popular election, presented a question worthy of inquiry and solution. Animated with a strong desire to arrive at a just and proper conclusion in respect to this question, I have given, in the sequel of the book, a full statement of the facts which are believed to have drawn the German and English or New England populations into harmony.
A brief allusion to the aboriginal inhabitants of the country, found roaming over its extended surface and almost impenetrable wilds, at the first advent of the European emigrant, was appropriate to the subject in hand as a necessary starting point from which to trace the authentic events of history, intended to be developed in the subsequent pages of the work. This is not the place to make an effort to reach the origin and follow the progress of a proud and brave, but a barbarous and illiterate people, whose annals can only be traced through a dark cloud of traditional mysticism, highly figurative, unnatural, and entirely improbable, when examined and compared with the providences of God, as given to us and illustrated by the written history of other branches of the human race; it has not therefore been attempted.
Although a history of the upper Mohawk valley does not necessarily embrace that of any other country or state, I have not considered a brief elucidation of German history as out of place, inasmuch as the first European settlements in the valley were made up entirely of a people of purely German origin, whose recent immigration into the colony had given no opportunity of change in habits, manners and customs, if any such change could have been effected in the adult emigrant, even if he had been a whole life time in reaching the land of promise, and had meanwhile sojourned with divers nations and people.
The particulars of this Palatine or German immigration, so far as they can now be given, are interesting, and seemed worthy of extended notice. The events which produced the movement in the heart of an old and polished European nation, and the causes which prompted these people to seek a refuge and home on the western continent, are quite as legitimate a subject of local American history, as the oftrepeated relation of the exodus of the pilgrim fathers from Europe, and their landing at Plymouth rock.
Persecution and religious intolerance drove the Puritans to seek an asylum from civil and ecclesiastical oppression, andto fix themselves as the planters of a new colony, ona lone and desolate shore, surrounded by an unbroken wilderness, while the same illegitimate emanations from the religion of the cross compelled the German Palatines to plant themselves in an exposed and wilderness frontier, as an out-post and van-guard, to protect and cover the older settlements in their rear from Indian assaults and depredations, and the not much less refined warfare carried on by a neighboring European colony, whose relentless cruelties, unmitigated barbarities and bigoted intolerance, they and their fathers had so often before seen, suffered and tasted.
We are not only able to name the first European settlers, the pioneers of the upper valley, but we can trace the descendants of most of them, as being still inhabitants of the county, while some of those families, from emigration or other causes have become entirely extinct, and the name is no longer known among us. Although there now are numerous descendants of the female branch of the Herkimer family in the county, it is believed there is not, at this time, one inhabitant in it bearing that name. With perhaps two or three exceptions, the chapter of biographies of the Palatine families, will attract but little interest out of or beyond a confined locality. As a whole the subject is worthy the attention and labor bestowed in getting it up. It will be noticed that several individuals of these families have held prominent official stations in the county. From the first settlement of the valley, under the Burnetsfield patent, to the outbreak of the revolution, many German settlers came into the upper valley, some from Schoharie county, and the lower valley, now Montgomery county, others from New York and the shores of the Hudson river, a few from New Jersey, and probably several of the third emigration of the Palatines, who arrived in New York in 1722. I have not been able, as yet, to learn the names of a single family of English descent, settled in the German