Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Mohawks and the Palatine Germans in the Mohawk Valley

The Mohawks and the Palatine Germans in the Mohawk Valley
-Paul Gorgen

As a young boy growing up in northern New York in the 1940's, Tom Porter, a future leader of the Mohawk people,  heard his grandmother say in their native language (she did not speak English) “a group of people who are German have an extra fondness for the Mohawks, and they are obligated to us.”  She had heard this phrase from her parents and grandparents, but she did not know its true meaning.   Tom would later learn it himself, after he moved back to his family’s ancestral homeland on the Mohawk River in 1993.  Those Germans, also known as the Palatines, were the first Europeans to settle in the Schoharie Valley, and they did indeed owe their success, and probably their very survival, to the Mohawk people who welcomed them to that land. 

Four Indian Kings painted by Jan Verelst, 1710. From left to right: Etow Oh Koam (Mohican), Sa Ga Yeath Qua Pieth TowHo Nee Yeath Taw No Row and Tee Yee Ho Ga Row. (National Archives of Canada - Artist: Jan Verelst C-092421, C-092419, C-092417, C-092415)
The Palatine Germans were refugees from devastating wars in Europe who fled to England in the early 1700’s, lured by British offers of land in Colonial America, particularly land along the Mohawk and Schoharie rivers. In 1710, the Mohawk leader King Hendrick and others visited London, seeking help against their French enemies. They saw an encampment of the German refugees living in tents outside the city and according to the Palatine leader Conrad Weiser, the Mohawk representatives “presented this Schochary to Queen Anne to settle this people on it.”  A group of the Palatines eventually reached Schoharie in the winter of 1712, after fleeing from forced labor camps in the Hudson valley.  They were taken in and fed by the local Mohawks, who gave them good land to farm.  The two groups went on to become close neighbors and friends; they worked and worshiped together, taught each others’ children, and sometimes intermarried.  In 1753, Hendrick Peters, another Mohawk leader, wrote this about his Palatine neighbors, in protest against a local land claim by an Englishman:

     “Let us Indians have our will to Lett our  high Germans have part of that grant that Teddy McGuiness intends to have, or Else we will keep it all to our Selves… Our Christian brethren have had the promise of it these many years and at all times supply our want, and we can not let any other have it…. For they and we are grown up together and we intend to live together as Brothers.” (Hendrick Peters letter to Lieutenant Governor Delancy, 1753).

As young man, Conrad Weiser lived in the Mohawk village of Canajoharie with a Mohawk family who adopted him and gave him a Mohawk name.  He became completely at home in Mohawk society and fluent in the language, and served as an official interpreter throughout his life.  His Mohawk name meant "Holder of the Heavens," a very auspicious name, and he seems to have earned it by mediating and helping resolve disputes involving the Colonial government. 

After being forced to leave Schoharie by the English, the Palatines bought new land from the Mohawks, at Stone Arabia and German Flats.  There the two groups continued to live side by side, and together they fought off French invaders in the Seven Years War.  They were finally separated by the American Revolution; after 65 years of friendship, the two groups were pulled apart by the warring factions. The Haudenosaunee League was officially neutral throughout the war, but the British used all their influence and resources to convince many to fight on their side.  Neither side won a clear victory in the Mohawk Valley, but during peace talks the British abandoned their Native allies and ceded all their land in New York to the United States.

During and after the Revolution, most of the surviving Mohawks moved to the Canadian border area, leaving behind their former Palatine friends and neighbors.  Two hundred years later, descendants of those Palatine neighbors were among the local families who welcomed the Mohawks back to the valley in the 1990s.  One of the Palatine descendants, Barbara Spraker, gave a gift of land to the Mohawk community, returning a favor from long ago.

Today, Tom Porter and his family lead a traditional Mohawk community on a large farm on the shore of the Mohawk River, in the aptly named town of Palatine, NY.   Kanatsiohareke (a variation of Canajoharie, meaning “the place of the clean pot”) is a gathering place for Haudenosaunee people and their friends from throughout New York, Canada, and the wider world. It is also a center for preserving the Mohawk language and culture, where classes are held to increase the number of fluent Mohawk speakers. 

Among the students and teachers at Kanatsiohareke are many whose families once lived in the nearby Mohawk village at Fort Hunter NY.   The people from that village had moved to the Bay of Quinte in Ontario, Canada in the 1780’s, where they formed a new community called Tyendinaga, or Kenhtè:ke.   There is a lot of interest among them about the history and current events of the Mohawk Valley, especially about their native village of Fort Hunter.      

The Kanatsiohareke community holds an annual festival and fundraiser on the last weekend of June, featuring Iroquois food, crafts, music, dance, and storytelling; everyone is invited to attend.  For more information and directions, see the Kanatsiohareke web site at:

Paul Gorgen was born and raised in the Mohawk Valley, and lives with his family in Poughkeepsie NY.  He has always been interested in local history,  including his family history which goes back to the early Dutch, the Palatine Germans, and the Native American people who were here before them.  He is currently studying the local language, Kanien'keha, at the Mohawk community in Fonda.  This article first appeared in the Yorker Palatine newsletter in 2013. 

*Editors Note: This article also appeared in the Friends of Schoharie Crossing Spring 2015 Newsletter


For more information on Fort Hunter, please check out the links below for other great Friends of Schoharie Crossing Blogposts!

Exploring Fort Hunter Through Maps - NYS Archives Part II

Visions West: Robert Hunter, Fort Hunter, and the Fur Trade

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Not Just Any Old Barn

The Wemp Barn, Feura Bush, NY
 The Old Wemp Barn, Fort Hunter, NY
(Image source:

Not Just Any Old Barn

 By: Jenny Galough

   I recently visited Feura Bush, New York and in my travels, I stopped to explore the Wemp Barn on Onesquethaw Creek Rd. The Wemp Barn, originally erected in Fort Hunter, NY in the early 1700s was located on Queen Anne St at the Wemp Homestead. In 1989, the dismantling, relocating and re-erecting began and was completed in June of 1990. I frequent the Towpath and various trails at the Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site, the trails span from Amsterdam to Fort Hunter, New York right along the beautiful Mohawk River and original Erie Canal. While exploring the trails, I was able to see the original site of the old Wemp Barn.  Desiring to learn more, I stopped to ask a few questions at the Visitor Center in Fort Hunter and did a little research on the Dutch Barn Preservation Society’s website then mapped out my adventure to Feura Bush.   

   After travelling for about an hour, the first thing I noticed upon arrival was the beautiful park-like setting that the WempBarn is now situated on. There is a road-side Historical Marker in place highlighting its origin and a very friendly “Visitors Welcome” sign that made my heart skip a beat because I knew I wanted to go beyond the fence to get closer. I walked the barely-there paver path and was greeted with another sign honoring the skill and craftsmanship that went into the construction of the Historic DutchBarn. After getting closer, the rustic grandeur of the barn becomes more apparent. The size, although a bit scaled down from the original, is almost overwhelming but still very impressive. Along the left side, I immediately noticed the outline of where the original side doors would have been located, they have since been closed up and the two doors at either end of the barn are the only functioning doors to gain access. While I was not able to go inside, I was able to peek through a large opening near the front left door to see the large beams that support the structure.  The beams seemed massive, (maybe 8” by 8”) compared to present-day construction.  Another thing I couldn’t help but notice, was the texture of the wood on the outside of the barn. At first glance, you would think it would be jagged and leave behind splinters, however, the weathering, age and distress of the wood was smooth and almost soft under the palm of my hand. I stood there, amazed by the process of dismantling an entire barn and moving it to a new location, in that moment, I couldn’t help but think about the journey this barn had taken to be located where it is now.  After completing a full lap around the property, I took one last look and was excited and honored that I was able to link the Wemp Barn in its current location of Feura Bush, NY back to its original location of Fort Hunter, New York, definitely an adventure worthwhile.

(ALL IMAGES by Jenny Galough)


Jenny Galough is a guest contributor to our blog and is a resident of Amsterdam, NY.  Jenny has recently taken a greater interest in Schoharie Crossing, using the trails almost daily and attending several programs or events over this past season.  She has also been sending along some great photographs of the site from her adventures as well as these programs.
Jenny has provided this article and images for our online and newsletter publication.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The First Bridge

Service Lives On

     A while back a small group of people from California stopped into the Schoharie Crossing Visitor Center as they vacationed and decided to add a bit of genealogy and heritage to their journey.  A gentleman in the group asked what information was had at the site about a particular drowning in 1814.  Surprised that the staff was aware of the fateful evening that Christian Service lost his life crossing the bridge over the Schoharie Creek, the group enthusiastically stated they were descendants of that family.  Here is what the 1892 publication, The History of Montgomery County by Washington Frothingham mentions about that occurrence – one of many tragic episodes of life lost attempting to cross the Schoharie.

“The first bridge of any importance ever built over the Schoharie creek was that constructed in 1796 at Fort Hunter by Major Isaiah Depuy…After its completion a stage route was established along the south side of the river from Albany to Canajoharie and adjacent settlements.  In 1814 Christian Service, a tanner and manufacturer of boots and shoes, living in [the town of] Florida, was drowned while attempting to cross this bridge.  The accident occurred in the night, the ice having carried away the eastern portion of the bridge, a fact unknown to the unfortunate man, who urged his team with a whip, and they leaped into the water, carrying himself and the sleigh with them.”

     The group mentioned that in tracing the family history they had come across information regarding his drowning death, but other branches of the family tree were hard to trace as the surname has gone through several spelling variations.  Since they were on a schedule and had to be on their way north, the visit was short but future correspondence is expected.  The site has a State Board of Education historical marker that mentions the bridge that existed over the creek prior to the original Erie Canal at that location.  Various methods across the waterway have been available for centuries -  as covered in a previous edition of the Friends Newsletter - even each of those had changes over time. 

Best of Luck to those descendants as they trace the path of their family though history – all the while creating their own.

*Editors Note: This article ran in the Summer 2015 Friends of Schoharie Crossing Newsletter


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

#Spooktacularly #Eerie Canal Stories!

Let's take a journey back through the Friends blog #spooky tales from the #eerie canal!

Way back in 2014, the Friends reported on the Ghost Barges that plied their way across the canal. Foggy mornings just aren't the same since!

The following year, the blog relayed the #ghoulish information about Witches along the canal in their post: Witch in the Ditch!  Brooms where a big part of business in Fort Hunter, so there had to be some special customers!

Maybe even the good old canal cool, Mrs. Carlson picked up some of those brooms.  Though, she may now only sweep along the ghostly coils... The Cook Mrs. Carlson

Last year, the tale of those lost orphan boys was told... in Eerie Orphan the plight of those forgotten was described as guilt ate away at captains.

There was also something fairly puurrrfect about the way the Canal Cat lore was told last year. 

And if that didn't petrify you, perhaps the Stone Curse will! How the Erie was nearly never built!

Give these a read and let us know what you think!  Which is your favorite and what will keep you up at night!