Article Number Two - 
The Dutch  Settlers

Written by Joshua G. Borthwick and originally published
on February 22, 1879, in the Catskill "Examiner". Copy provided by the Durham Center Museum and retyped by Annette Campbell



As the Dutch were the first settlers of the State, and of the county, so we are convinced, after careful investigation, that they were the first settlers in the town. The precise time cannot be given, but it is clear that it was several years before the Revolution---probably about 1770 or 1772. The valley of the Catskill was at that time connected with the valley of the Schoharie by an Indian Trail, affording communication between the Catskill Indians and the Mohegans, a branch of the Schoharie Indians, who were located at the junction of the Schoharie and Little Schoharie creeks, near the site of the village of Middleburgh. This Indian trail was often used as a war path, especially after the commencement of hostilities between England and her Colonies. Several Hollanders, following their instinctive national love for valley land, followed this trail and commenced a settlement at and near the spot where the village of Oak Hill is located. John Plank and Lucas DeWitt were, without doubt, the first white men who ever made the town of Durham their home. The farm on which John Plank settled is situated on the west side of the Catskill creek, just opposite the village of Oak Hill. It long since passed out of possession of the family, into the hands of Peter Roggen, Oren Porter, and others, and is now owned by John A. Smith.  None of Mr. Plank's descendants are now living in the town. Lucas DeWitt settled on the east side of the creek, near the mouth of the small stream flowing into the Catskill from the north. He built his house on the ground now occupied as a garden by his grandson, Isreal DeWitt.  The farm has never passed out of the ownership of the family.  It is now owned by Isreal DeWitt, a grandson of Lucas DeWitt, having been in the family more than one hundred years, a longer time than any other farm in the town, and perhaps in the county. Mr. DeWitt had three sons: James, the oldest, settled on the farm now owned by Francis DeFrate. He was a large, muscular man, renowned for his courage and physical strength. The second son, Peter, settled on the farm north of Oak Hill now occupied by Luther Niles.  John, the youngest, remained on the old farm.  Meanwhile the war of the Revolution broke out, and the settlement being very much exposed to Indian attacks, and the settlers so few in number and consequently unable to resist their foes, it was abandoned for the time, the settlers returning to their friends in the Imboght.  Upon the return of peace they came back to their homes in the wilderness and were soon joined by others, of whom we shall hereafter speak. For some time they were obliged to go to Catskill or Leeds to have their grain ground, until Mr. DeWitt obtained a large portable mill, something like a large coffee mill, with which they for a time ground their wheat and corn by hand. In time he built a milldam near the upper bridge in Oak Hill, and arraching this large hand mill to the water power thus obtained, it became the first grist mill in the town. That was old process flour---the mill grinding the grain and the mothers sifting it at home. In process of time the old coffee mill gave place to a new grist mill, located near the site of Cherritree's furnace, on the Catskill creek, in which the grain was crushed between the upper and nether millstone and subjected to the bolting process, as now.  The settlement at this time was called DeWittville. The name was changed to Oak Hill about the year 1792. James DeWitt built a grist mill on his place where Ding's mill now stands.  Precious to this, about 1788,  Jared Smith built the first saw mill, but its precise location is not ascertained---it was doubtless in the neighborhood of the settlement. Among the early settlers of the place we find the following names: Lucas, James  (sometimes called Cobus), Peter and John (alias Deacon John) DeWitt, John Plank, Dederick Plank, Adoniram Skeels, Denis Spencer, Capt. Sheldon Graham, Bela Strong, Salmon Cowles, George Flower, Capt. Pratt, William Edwards and Daniel Crane. This Daniel Crane kept a public house, and there was a traveler put up him for the night, who during the evening drank quite freely and "treated the company" quite often. In the morning, when Mr. Crane presented the account, he looked it over, then asked, "What is your name?"  "Crane," said Mr. C.  "I thought so," said he, "from the length of your bill."  And what is your name?" said Mr. Crane. "Flower," replied the man, "And coarsely bolted, too," said Mr. Crane.

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