Early History of the Town of
To a large degree the Town of Colonie
was shaped by events that took place some ten to fifteen thousand
years ago. This was a period when the last of the great continental
glaciers began to recede. As the ice melted, it left behind the
debris which the glacier had carried during the last advance.
A prominent example, that is visible today, is a geological feature
called an esker. It is a long and narrow accumulation of sediments,
grading from boulders to course gravels to finer sands and clays.
These sediments were laid down by melting water flowing under
the edge of the ice sheet. The esker in Colonie runs from the
Dunsbach Ferry area, through Latham and Loudonville, and finally
disappears near Albany.
As the glaciers melted, the water that
was set free was trapped by a barrier that must have existed
well south of Albany. A large glacial lake was formed, that geologists
call Lake Albany. Meltwater flowed from the "Glaciomohawk"
River into Lake Albany, near the present site of Schenectady.
The lake slowed the flow of the water entering from the river,
and a large sand delta was created. Eventually the waters of
Lake Albany drained, leaving this delta exposed to the elements.
The westerly winds sweeping down the Mohawk Valley spread the
delta sands over a wide area, including portions of the Town
of Colonie. After the wind shaped the sand into dunes, plants
stabilized their motion, forming a large in-land Pine Barrens.
This area, known today as the "Pine Bush", at one time
covered forty square miles between Schenectady and Albany. A
quote from the Heritage of the Pine Bush follows:
Proudly,, patiently,, atop the lonely,
dunes I have kept my silent vigil over the wind-swept plains
of Colonie. I came with the sand, tossed from the desert left
in the tomb of Lake Albany. Flourishing on the granite sand,
washed from the Adirondacks into the Mohawk by glacial streams,
I have nurtured the barriers which have become the symbol of
the transcendental beauty of the Pine Bush. Written by the wind,
I whisper to you now, a rhapsody.
When Lake Albany drained, most of Colonie
was a moderately level area some two to three hundred feet above
sea level. At first this plateau or upland area was drained by
tiny rills, but eventually larger brooks were formed as the rain
carried away the sand and finer gravels. All the principal drainage
streams which originate in the Town of Colonie had developed
from these small rills. These drainages include: Patroon's Creek,
Sand Creek, Lisha Kill, Shaker Creek, Delphus Kill and the Salt
Kill. While it seems strange to envision, the sizable ravines
and gullies that were formed by these streams have been produced
since Lake Albany drained, approximately 10,000 years ago.
The lowland areas of the Hudson and Mohawk
Valleys are characterized by long alluvial flats.
These were the first lands selected by both the Indians and the
early colonists, since the continual flooding created fertile
soils for agriculture. The alluvial flats along the Mohawk River
near the Mohawk View area was designated by the Indians as "Canastagione",
a name that had many spellings, and eventually became Niskayuna.
"Canastagione" referred to the Indian corn fields on
The majority of anthropologists believe
that prehistoric man first came to North America from Asia about
twelve to twenty thousand years ago as they followed game animals
across the Bering land bridge into Alaska. Within a relatively
short period of time these peoples had migrated as far as the
southern-most tip of South America. The earliest settlements
in our area were located along the lower Hudson Valley and the
Atlantic Coast and remained there until the climate warmed up
at the end of the glacial period. This climatic change encouraged
the growth of hardwood forests and the migration of many animal
species into the areas where the glaciers previously had been.
Prehistoric man likewise migrated into these areas.
Archeologists have identified many different
cultural groups among the aboriginal Indians, by noticing the
differences in the style and inventory of their tools and pottery.
Since artifacts are the primary physical evidence of a cultural
group, archeologists use the differences in artifact styles as
an indication of differences in lifestyles, religion and other
The location of many Indian occupations
have been discovered in the present Town of Colonie.
The majority of these sites have been found along the rivers
and streams, where fishing provided a major food source and the
water permitted easy travel. Only two sites, along the Little
River ("BinneKill") between Breaker Island and Menands,
have been the subjects of professional archeological excavations.
Over the course of several thousand years
many cultures moved through or occupied land in our Town. The
division of the Indian cultures falls into three major chronological
stages: Paleo-Indian, Archaic, and Woodland. While PaleoIndian
remains have never been found in Colonie, they have been discovered
in Greene County. Archaic Indians may have settled in our vicinity
along the flats of the Hudson River. Since the river provided
easy travel and abundant natural resources, these prehistoric
Indian cultures may have occupied this land for over 3000 years.
The Woodland peoples developed pottery, specialized burial rituals,
and later had an agricultural economy based on corn, beans, squash
and nuts. They dug large pits in order to store these foods.
After the pits were no longer used they were filled with discarded
tools and other refuse. The bow and arrow were not used until
relatively late in prehistoric times. Many of the so-called "arrowheads"
which have been found were probably javelin and spear points,
or special types of knives.
The Iroquoian and Algonkian tribes were
the last of the Late Woodland people in New York State and played
an important role in our colonial history. The Mohawks were a
local Iroquois-speaking tribe who lived near the mouth of the
Schoharie Creek where it enters the Mohawk River. Their neighbors
to the east were the Mahicans (not to be confused with the Mohegans
in Connecticut). The Mahicans spoke an Algonquian language, quite
unlike that spoken by the Iroquois.
Before the arrival of the Europeans,
the Mahicans were the most powerful of the Indian tribes in our
area. They controlled the territory from Lake Champlain to Dutchess
County in the lower Hudson Valley, and from southern Vermont
westerly to the Schoharie drainage. The principal Mahican villages
were located at Monnemin's Castle on Peeble's Island at the mouth
of the Mohawk River, at Unwat's Castle at Lansingburgh and another
For the most part, the relationship between
the local tribes and the earliest Europeans was friendly. The
Indians traded furs for guns, liquor and other desirable trade
items, The greed created by the fur
trade stimulated intense hostilities between the Mahicans and
the Mohawks. With the encouragement of the Dutch, the two tribes
warred for several years. Finally, in 1628 the Mahicans were
forced to vacate that part of their territory which was west
of the Hudson. They were confined to living on the east side
of the River, south of the present City of Rensselaer.
There is confusion over whether artifacts
found in Colonie, previously attributed to the Mohawks, instead
may have belonged to the Mahican culture. It is possible that
the two tribes had more similar cultures than scholars realize.
Future excavations along the flats of the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers
may in time produce evidence to help archeologists solve this
Henry Hudson was the first European visitor
to reach the vicinity of the present Town of Colonie. Hudson
was an English navigator employed by the Dutch East India Company
to find an open polar route to Northern Asia. When he reached
the North American continent on July 3, 1609, Hudson traveled
along the coast until he found an inlet which he surmised would
lead him to India. He traveled up this river to the farthest
navigable point, not far from Albany. There he encountered the
Mahican Indians who readily traded furs and food in exchange
for beads, knives and hatchets.
Reports of Hudson's journey stimulated
a group of' Amsterdam merchants to form the United Netherlands
Company, for the purpose of developing the fur trade with the
Indians. On October 11, 1614 the Dutch government granted this
Company a four year monopoly to trade with the Indians in New
Netherlands. A crude trading post, called Fort Nassau, was built
on a low island in the Hudson River, near the mouth of the Normanskill.
By 1617 spring floods forced them to build a new fort on the
west bank of the Hudson, opposite the first fort.
In 1621 the Holland States General incorporated
the Dutch West India Company, and gave it exclusive jurisdiction
over New Netherlands, including the rights to trade and to found
new settlements. Initially, the Company viewed its colony of
New Netherlands as a trading center rather than as an expanding
agricultural settlement. In the spring of 1623 the Dutch West
India Company persuaded 30 families to emigrate to New Netherlands.
When they arrived in the early part of 1624, eighteen of these
families settled in Albany, while the rest remained on an island
called Manhatans. Soon after they arrived, they built a fortified
trading post called Fort Orange, near present day Broadway in
Unfortunately, the task of colonizing
New Netherlands became too expensive, and the Company
abandoned their plans of sending settlers to their colony. The
Directors of the Company decided upon another way to make their
venture profitable. They offered grants of land, "with feudal
jurisdiction, to such members of the Company as would undertake
to transport and settle within four years, fifty colonists above
the age of fifteen. The settlers would become agricultural tenants
of the grantee, or patroon, for a fixed term of years, being
subject to his jurisdiction during that time". In this way
it was expected that the population of the colony would be increased
Kiliean van Rensselaer, a wealthy Amsterdam
merchant, was one of the first people to take steps to plant
colonies in New Netherlands. After obtaining the approval of
the States-General, Van Rensselaer sent instructions to Sebastian
Jansen Crol at Fort Orange, to purchase from the Indians a tract
of land sufficient in size for the settlement of a colony. "The
colony of Rensselaerswyck began at the southern end of Barren
Island in the Hudson River and ran northerly along the river
as far as the Great Falls at the Cohoes, some twenty-three miles.
It included the land on both sides of the river, running back
twenty-four miles from each bank." Eventually, this tract
included nearly a million acres of land.
Meanwhile Kiliean van Rensselaer actively
exerted himself to obtain the quota of persons required by the
West India Company to be settled in the first year. He led a
campaign with numerous advertisements, which induced a number
of people to become settlers in his patroonship. The arrival
of these people marks the first significant settlement in the
Albany area. While most of them were farmers and artisans, they
were of diverse backgrounds and heritages. The purpose of bringing
these people to New Netherlands was to establish Rensselaerswyck
on an agrarian basis.
The colonists in New Netherlands were
not exempted from the serious political and religious changes
that took place in England and France during the middle of the
Seventeenth century. As a result of England's victories, Pieter
Stuyvesant, Governor of Niew Amsterdam, was Forced to surrender
his territory to Colonel Nicolls, the commander of the British
Fleet in 1664. The surrender included not only the fort on Manhattan,
but "all such forts, taverns, or places of strength as were
now owned by the Dutch." Thus after fifty years of Dutch
domination, all of the Hudson-Mohawk territory came under English
political rule. Beverwyck and Niew Amsterdam were renamed, respectively,
Albany and New York, after the Duke of York in Albany, who later
became James II King of England. During the English occupation
little colonization occurred in the upper Hudson Valley, and
consequently the Settlements remained Dutch in character, at
least until 1800.
Before the middle of the 17th century
adventurous pioneers occupied the desirable alluvial plains in
Niskayuna (Canastigione), the Half Moon (Waterford) and as far
north] as "Saraglitoga". From the last years of the
17th century and far into the 18th. the frontiers west of Albany
were the scene of blood raids instigated by the French in Canada
and carried out by the Indians allied with them. Although farmers.
their families and servants, were killed while harvesting crops
in their fields, the settlers remained undaunted.
During this period, communication passed
back and forth between officials in Albany and those in England
concerning the need for the erection of a new fort at Niskayuna
(as then called) to replace the "pretty large Stockaded
Fort ... quite gone to ruine". This fort was located on
Marten Cregier's land, near the mouth of the present Shaker's
Creek, from the time of the earliest settlers,
At the time of the Schenectady Massacre,
in 1690, when that city was destroyed by a hostile
French and Indian force. Symon Schermerhorn escaped and rode
along the River Road and Old Niskayuna Road, warning the settlers;
thence on to Albany with the news Schermerhorn's descendants
still live on the road named for him in the Mohawk area. Below
is the description from "Forts and Fires the Mohawk Country,
New York" by John J. Vrooman relating the dramatic tale:
Near midnight on February 8, 1690
Symon Schermerhorn was roused by his great dog Negar. When he
opened the shutter he saw, almost in disbelief, a column of men
in strange uniforms, followed by a file of Indians. Rousing his
brother, he said, "Ryer, the French are in town - I will
ride to Albany and give the alarm." He was able to saddle
his horse and get to the north gate before he was fired upon,
wounding his thigh and the horse. His route passed close to the
river and through Niskayuna, where there was no doctor. He had
to pull his mare down to walk because of the pain. It is logical
that he turned down the Crooked Road (Old Niskayuna Road) and
on down the hill to the stockade gate. Numbed by the cold and
weak from loss of blood he could barely stammer "Schenectady
- French - Indians - Fire - everything afire."
Prior to the establishment of the Van
Rensselaer Manor in 1630 few efforts were made to establish New
Netherlands as an agrarian society. The fur trade was the principal
occupation of the majority of the settlers. During the early
years of the Van Rensselaer's patroonship most of the colonists
remained in close proximity to Fort Orange probably as a result
of their interest in participating in the fur trade, even though
many of them had signed farm leases. Both the Dutch government
and the West India Company had difficulties in obtaining settlers;
this situation did not change until the latter part of the seventeenth
century when the English Governors established the manorial system
in New York.
Details concerning the location of the
very earliest settlers' homes are scarce. Patroon Creek was the
first landmark north of the fort. Marinus Adriansz signed a three
year contract to be a tobacco planter on a farm north of Fort
Orange. In 1632 Gerrit Thensz de Reux was to settle a farm on
the Blommaerts Kill (Patroon Creek). Later he is recorded as
living on a farm across the river, at de Laets Burg Farms just
north of the kill were occupied by Rutger Jacobsz in 1645 and
Adrian Hybertsz in 1647. On January 29, 1654 Jacob Jansz Flodder
was the highest bidder for grist and sawmills on the Creek. Barent
Pietersz Coeymar and Teunis Cornelisz van Spitsbergen obtained
a lease for a sawmill higher up the stream in the same year.
Anthonisz van Schlick (Van Slyke) came from Breuckelen in 1634
under contract as a carpenter and mason. By 1636 he was in charge
of a farm immediately south of de Vlackte (later Schuyler Flatts).
The Patroon wrote "the place of Broer Cornelis and the Great
Flats together . . . contain about 140 morgens according to survey."
A morgen contains approximately two acres.
Broer (Brother) Cornelis married a part
Indian woman named Otstoch, called "Princess", and
was adopted into the tribe. One daughter, Hilletie, became interested
in the Christian religion and married Pieter Danielse van Olinda.
She and her sister Leah, acted as interpreters for the Mohawks.
In appreciation the Indians granted her the large island in the
Mohawk River at Niskayuna later called Shaker Island. This grant
was made June 11, 1667, patent dated on May 8, 1668 and conveyed
by Hilletie's husband to Jan Clute on March 4, 1669.
On October 24, 1704 Hilletie van Olinda
petitioned for a patent "known by the Indian name of Dewaethoeiacocks,
lying on the south side of the Maquase River, bounded on the
south side by Kiliaen van Rensselaer's patent; on the west by
the patent of Peter Hendrick de Haes; easterly down along the
river, by the Kahoos or Great Falls, containing 40 acres."
This land was outside the Manor. On October 15, 1719 Daniel van
Olinda was granted a patent for 1,284 acres including the 400
acres mentioned above. The acreage amounted to two square miles.
The Van Olinda descendents farmed the area for many years.
Arendt van Curler, a cousin of the Patroon,
at the age of twenty years, was commissioned on
May 12, 1639 as a secretary and bookkeeper of Rensselaerswyck.
He was in charge of the Patroon's farm at the Flatts, and according
to records and reports, he had a house built there for the laborers
and carpenters. The building was 120 feet long, and was used
as a dwelling for the farm laborers with the additional space
used for the farm animals. It had a cellar measuring 20 feet
long and 28 feet wide. Excavations under the direction of Paul
R. Huey, Chief Archeologist, Bureau of Historic Sites, New York
State Division for Historic Preservation, located this early
structure in 1974.
The lease of May 1, 1648 shows the terms
and legal restrictions to which Arendt van Curler was bound on
his farm on the Flatts. While traditional historians believe
that the lease terms are an indication that the farming was a
form of servitude for life, the fact is that oftentimes the Patroon
never collected rents from his farmers, and the lease terms were
not strictly adhered to. Arendt van Curler was interested in
participating in the fur trade himself, and consequently he requested
permission from Director-General Peter Stuyvesant to purchase
land from the Mohawk Indians. In 1661 van Curler moved with several
families to this tract of land and founded Schenectady beyond
the limit of Van Rensselaer's Manor.
Little information is known concerning
the tenancy of the Flatts after van Curler left; other than that
the house had caved in by 1668 and the van Rensselaers were in
need of a good tenant. Philip Pieterse Schuyler, General Philip
Schuyler's great grandnephew purchased the farm in 1672, probably
repaired the old house and cellar, and may have built an additional
structure without a cellar on the north. This was the beginning
of a long Schuyler lineage in the area.
the Town Historian Web Page
Last Updated 11/1/99