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Article Number 18 - The Catskill Patent No. 11 - The Capture of David Abeel

Originally published in the Catskill Examiner by Henry Brace between the years 1876 and 1879. Article 18was published on November 17,1877. Extracted from the microfilm copies of the Catskill Examiner located at the Vedder Research Library. Transcribed by Barbara Bartley.

Local Sketches.--No. 18. An Outline of the History of the Town of Catskill, To The Year 1783. By Henry Brace. 

About half a mile above the bridge over the Katerskill, at Webber’s is the house which, at least so early as 1768, was the dwelling of David Abeel. It stands on a low ridge in the valley, and green meadows, broken by clumps of hickories and by old apple-trees, lie on three sides of it. The Kaaterskill is near by, and here the water is clear, and lies in pools or ripples over rifts of rock. Many years ago, before the valley above the Bak-Oven was cleared, this beautiful river was full of trout, bred in the Beaverkill and in the Mudder Kilje.

The house, now deserted and falling into ruins, is, with a wing or addition on the east end, about forty feet long and about eighteen feet deep, with outer walls of limestone and sandstone, quarried probably from the opposite bank of the Katerskill; beneath is a cellar-kitchen, where Lon and Jannetje Van Valkenburg, and the other slaves and servants of David Abeel, used to spend their days. A hall divides the interior from north to south. In this hall are enclosed stairs leading to the garret, a large closet and the front and back-doors. On either side are two rooms with their fire places and pantries.

David Abeel was probably born in Albany, but at least so early as 1754 was the husband of Neeltje, a daughter of Gerret Van Bergen, and was living at Catskill. In 1771 he obtained a patent for one thousand acres of land, “on the west side of and adjoining the Brook called the Caterskill, at a place called the Bak-Oven.”* [*This word means Bake-Oven, and was given, it is said, to that portion of the valley, in which Abeel’s house stands, because of the resemblance of a hillock there to an oven. The lands covered by the patent are somewhat in a triangular shape; the western apex reaches beyond the Half-Way House, on the Mountain Road, the southern to, or nearly to, the bridge on the road to High Falls, the northern nearly to the road up the Whitney Hill.] This estate was within the bounds of the Catskill Patent, and was once owned by Abeel’s father-in-law. The Van Bergens, however, seem to have consented to the issuing of the patent.

During the War of the Revolution, there were living at the Bak-Oven, David Abeel, Neeltje, his wife, and their four children, Anthony, Gerret, Catharine and Anna. The men of this household were zealous Whigs, and between them and the few Tories in the neighborhood, a bitter feud existed. One of these Tories, Jacobus Rowe, was especially malignant. He harbored the Indians, when they came into the valley of the Catskill; he was one of their guides when they burnt Stroop’s near the Round-Top; it was he who planned the attack upon the Abeels. †[†The house at the Bak-Oven is in a secluded place, which, in the old time, was far more lonely. A narrow strip of alluvial land along the Katerskill had been cleared by the slaves, but the enclosing hills on every side were covered by the primreview forest. The nearest neighbors of the Abeels were nearly a mile away. Wilhelmus Oosterhoudt and, perhaps, Mulligan were living near or upon the site of David Webber’s house. Philip Spaan was the occupant of the house which Zechariah Dederick afterwards owned; and at the Mudder Vly, and in the western bounds of the Bak-Oven Patent, were Turry Gaveler, Cash and Tietshorn.

The Van Vechten house was, however, first attempted. The only man who happened to be home was Jacob, the brother of Samuel Van Vechten, and he, on the approach of the marauders, had hidden himself in the garret, behind the huge chimney. His old mother was asked by a tory, “and where is Jacob?” She was quick-witted enough to answer that he had gone above. The marauders supposed that she meant to say that Jacob had gone to Albany. Her word was taken, and they left the house without searching it and without doing any mischief.

At this time, too, late one evening, a tory, whose name is now forgotten, was about to cross the Catskill, near the place where the old village bridge now stands. Discovering that a band of Indians, eight or ten in number, were lurking among the trees and in the thicket which covered the eastern bank of the creek, he drew near and asked them what they were doing. They answered that they were going to seize and carry off Cornelius Dubois, who lived opposite in the stone house, which now forms a portion of the dwelling of Mrs. Hopkins. A party had assembled there, and the Indians were waiting until the lights should be put out and the house should become quiet. The story is, that they were especially disturbed by the women of the Dubois family, who, lights in hand, were continually going out of the south door and around into the cellar, of which the entrance was in the western side of the house. The tory dissuaded them, alleging the well-known bravery of Col. Dubois, and that he and his men were well armed. The appeal was successful, and the Indians refrained from an attack. After peace had been declared, the tory told the story to Dubois, who, so far from thanking his preserver, called him a traitor to his country, who deserved to be hung.

It was during a Sunday evening in the year 1780, that the Indians, with Jacobus Rowe and perhaps another tory, entered the house of David Abeel. The inmates had just returned from a prayer-meeting, somewhere in the neighborhood, and were at supper. They were taken by surprise. They had no time even to take down their guns, which lay upon wooden brackets fastened to the walls and to the great beams of the ceiling. These weapons, however, would have been of no service. The slaves of Abeel had been notified of the coming attack, and during the absence of the family in the afternoon, had removed the priming of the guns and had stuffed ashes into their pans.

The house was first plundered. The chests and tables were split into pieces with tomahawks, the beds were ripped open and the feathers were scattered; nearly everything that was portable and of value enough was carried away. In later days, Catharine, the daughter of David Abeel, and at that time a girl of fifteen, used to tell, with great glee, how in the confusion attendant upon the entry of the marauding party, she crept under the supper table, and taking the silver buckles from the knee-bands and shoes of her father and brother, hid them in her bosom.

The women of the household were not molested. David and Anthony Abeel were made prisoners. The former was then somewhat past the prime of life, and would have been released had he not recognized his neighbor, Rowe, who was disguised as an Indian. He incautiously asked, “Is that you?” The tory answered, “Since you know me, you must go too.”

Lon, a large and powerful slave of David Abeel, aided the Indians in binding their prisoners. The negro heaped upon his master all manner of abuse, complaining chiefly that he had not been allowed enough to eat, and, at last, snatched his master’s hat from his head, giving him his own in exchange, and saying in Dutch, “I am master now, wear that.”

Gerret Abeel, Anthony’s younger brother, had been spending the day at the parsonage at Old Catskill with John, a son of Domine Schuneman. As he drew near the house, upon his way home, he heard the unusual noise near it or in it. His suspicions were aroused, and he turned aside, to get the aid of one Mulligan, who was living a little south of the place where the turnpike-road now crosses the Katerskill. The two then hid themselves in a thicket, near the path which led to the house, and waited. The Indians soon came by with their prisoners and their booty, their leader carrying a lantern to guide them on their way. As they passed, Gerret raised his gun and was about to fire, but Mulligan stopped him, saying, “Don’t shoot, you may hit your own father.” He was trembling from fear, and was influenced by a regard for his own safety rather than for the safety of David Abeel.

The prisoners were four in number, David and Anthony Abeel and two slaves, Lon and Jannetje Van Valkenburg. They were led over the Catskill Mountains, and spent the first night, and perhaps the second, after their capture, in a small log fort which stood upon the southwestern slope of Round Top, midway between it and High Peak. The ruins of this fort were visible so late as 1848, when they were visited by a party of gentlemen from Catskill.

I was once told by an old Revolutionary pensioner named French, that he was one of a party of men who, a day or two after the capture of the Abeels, started in pursuit. They reached this fort just after the Indians had left it, and found the ashes of their fires still warm. But, although the pursuers descended the Schoharie Kill for many miles, they failed to overtake the retreating party. Another party of men, among whom was Joel Dubois, went also after the marauders. But they got no further than to the house of Frederick Sax, who owned an apple orchard and had in his cellar an abundance of cider. There they spent the day in drinking and in discussing in what direction the Indians had gone. Two opinions were strenuously maintained. Some were certain that the pursuit should be through Palensville Clove; others were equally certain that the pursuit should be through Winter Clove, and thence over the Catskills to the East Kill. Night came on, the question was undecided, and all agreed that they had better return home.

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