Article Number 3 - The Van Vechten Patent No. 1 - Early Catskill and Native Lands

Originally published in the Catskill Examiner by Henry Brace between the years 1876 and 1879. Article 3 was published on February 5, 1876. Extracted from the microfilm copies of the Catskill Examiner located at the Vedder Research Library. Transcribed by Barbara Bartley.

Saturday, February 5, 1876 Local Sketches.Number 3. History of the Town of Catskill, To the Year 1783. By Henry Brace 

In the early days of the Dutch supremacy, a tribe of Indians lived on the plain, which lies along the Catskill, just below its junction with the Caterskill. These Indians were of Algonquin lineage. But whether their totem, or national symbol, was the Wolf of the Delawares or the Wolf of the Mohicans is a question which cannot now be answered.

The maize-fields and the tobacco-fields of this tribe were on the plain; on its eastern edge their wigwams stood, out of the reach of the highest floods of the Catskill. “Their burying ground”--thus, in 1787, testified old JAN VAN SCHAAK, whose memory went back nearly to the beginning of the century--”their burying ground was north-east of VAN VECHTEN’S house, almost opposite VAN VECHTEN’S barn.” The place, about two hundred paces north-east of this house, and on the second bank of the Catskill, was once pointed out to me by JOHN VAN VECHTEN. He also told me, that, in his boyhood, seventy-five years ago, the situation of some of the graves was marked by depressions in the ground, caused by the decay of the bodies beneath. A clump of red cedars, of great size and very old, once covered this burial-place. These trees, about the year 1836, were cut down and their trunks were made into ties for the Catskill and Canajoharie Railway.

The south-western corner of Jefferson Flats overlooks this ancient grave yard, and was called by the Dutch Casteel’s Hoogte, or Castle Height. This name calls to mind a fort which the Indians of the plain below had built as a place of refuge. It was a rude stockade, made of logs fixed perpendicularly into the ground. As there is no spring of water on this portion of the Jefferson plain, the enclosure of the fort probably extended down the southern slope of the hill, so as to include the copious fountain of pure water, that, to this day, bubbles out of the ground at the edge of the Snake Road.

The fort, I have said, was a place of refuge; it was the retreat of the Indians, when, during the long summer days, the Mohawks, in their hunt after boys to adopt, came down to the Hudson over the trail which led along the Catskill from its headwaters at the Vly.

The Catskill Path, as it is called in deeds of indenture, which are now two hundred years old--the Catskill Path was a foot-path that led from this fort to the plains of Coxsackie. It formed the eastern boundary of the lands described in the patents which cover the eastern portion of the town of Athens, so that its exact course has been preserved. The path crossed the Jefferson Flats in a north-easterly direction, and kept under the hill of Helderberg limestone which rises out of the Catskill at AUSTIN’S Paper-Mill. Upon this trail was afterwards laid out the road, which begins at the western turn-pike near the house of ROBERT AUSTIN and which leads to the old farm-house that once belonged to HENRY OOTHOUDT. No traces of this trail now remain, for it was a mere foot-path; such as one as now exists along the bank of the Hudson, between the eastern foot of William Street and the beautiful point to which, a hundred years ago, the Dutch gave the name of Dieper Hook.

At Mawignack, as the Indians called it, or “the place where two rivers meet,” that is to say, on the narrow strip of alluvial loam which lay between the Catskill and the Caterskill, at their junction, was another Indian village. Our grandfathers have talked with old men, with HELMER JANSEN TURNER and with GYSBERT OOSTERHOUDT, who, in their boyhood, saw “Indian houses on the west side of the Catskill” and an “Indian foart that stood on the Berg five or six hundred yards to the northward of whare the kills meet.” The Berg is the sandy hill which lies on the north side of the Caterskill.

The site of these villages was well chosen. The Catskill was full of fish, of sturgeons, shad and herring in the spring, and of perch and striped bass all the summer through. The forests furnished an abundance of deer and wild turkeys for food, and of wolves and bears for clothing. The low-lands, tilled by the women with easy labor, produced an ample store of maize and beans and squashes. If these Indians sometimes went hungry, it was because of their lack of forethought and of their shiftless improvidence.

The fertility of this plain and of the other plains on the Catskill, soon attracted the Dutch colonists of New Netherland. In 1643, thirty-three years after the discovery of the Hudson ADRIAEN VAN DER DONCK, shout-fiscal of Rensselaer’s Wyck, came down the Hudson with some colonists, to examine the lands on the Catskill. But his master, the Patroon, wanted these lands--had, indeed, given orders for their purchase, and VAN DER DONCK was forced to abandon his design of planting a colony at Hopen-Nose and at Mawignack. Three years later, in 1646, CORNELIS ANTONISSEN VAN SLYCK, of Breuckelen, obtained a grant of “the lands of the Katskill.” But, for some reason no longer known, he never took possession of his estate, and suffered the grant to lapse.

In 1649, however, the colonization of the Catskill began. In April of that year, BRANDT VAN SLECTENHORST, the commissary or chief executive officer of the Patroon, bought from PEWASCK, a squaw and the chief of Catskill, and from SUPAHOOF, her son, for the price of seventeen and a half ells of duffels--a coarse woolen cloth like baize--a beaver jacket and a knife, “the kill with the falls,” or the Catskill as far as the rapids which lie below the paper-mill of the AUSTIN’S, just opposite the plain of Ochquichtok.

PEWASCK lived in the Indian village on the VAN VECHTEN Flats, and it was the home and the lands of herself and her people, which she sold to VAN SLECTENHORST. But her deed of conveyance also included two “flat parcels of land along the north side of the kill and two flats on the south side.” These parcels can still be identified. On the right or south bank of the Catskill, one “flat” lies between the Mountain Turnpike and the house of Capt. RICHARD MARTIN; the other is north and west of the Devil’s Aspect. On the left or north bank of the Catskill, one “flat parcel” is bounded by Main, Greene and Bridge Streets; the other lies east of the VAN VECHTEN house, and between the Snake Road and the Creek.

But his purchase by VAN SLECTENHORST had been made without the consent of the West India Company. STUYVESANT, the Director General of New Netherland, immediately, therefore, entered his protest against the transaction, and forbade--although to no purpose, any settlements on the Catskill. He even arrested VAN SLECTENHORST, and kept him for four months in New Amsterdam, as a prisoner at large, for his zeal in prosecuting the design of the Patroon to add the region of the Catskill to his enormous possessions.

In 1652, the conveyance by PEWASCK and SUPAHOOF to VAN SLECTENHORST was declared void. But the few men who had bought or leased lands on the Catskill from the Patroon were allowed to remain on their lands, free from any feudal burthens and from the patronage of the Colony.

These men, the colonists of the Catskill, were, so far as I have been able to discover, Hans Vos, Claes Uylen Spiegel, and Jan Jansen van Bremen. Of Hans Vos I have already written, Uylen Spiegel lived on the south side of the Catskill, on the south-eastern slope of the Hopen-Nose. Van Bremen took possession of the lands which Pewasck and her tribe had occupied.

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