Historian Tells of First White Settlers in Area

By Grace Story Webber, Cairo Township Historian
Published in the Catskill Daily Mail April 2, 1952


Newspaper article courtesy of Linda Larsen. Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin


(Editor’s Note: this is the fourth in a series of articles on the history of Cairo Township prepared by Mrs. Webber. Her last article dealt with possessions and occupations of Indians in the Cairo area. Today’s considers the first white settlers and where they came from.)

The Indians had a legend that there had been white men on the site of Albany and in the Hudson River Valley, 70 years before Hudson put in his appearance. Why limit it to seventy years? Why not long before that?

We all know of Leif Ericson, the Iceland discoverer, who in 1,000 came to the shores of North America and named it Wineland from the abundance of vines he and his followers found. One story is that it took two men to carry one bunch of grapes.

Ericson made a number of voyages to the continent and on one of them established a settlement. There is a controversial question just where that settlement was, but the people of Boston, Mass., erected a statue to Leif on Commonwealth Ave., and claim him as their own. The people of this Icelandic settlement never returned to their homes and were absorbed by the inhabitants of the Atlantic seaboard. Did they reach the Great River and settle here?

Who followed? We do not know. According to D. H. Montgomery’s History, "Cartier," a French navigator, "made sail from his native town April 20th, 1534, in command of two ship and 120 men. He returned home on September 5th, but the next year returned to Canada and wintered at the mouth of the St. Lawrence." Some of these men deserted the ships and remained in the new country.

In 1581, an Englishman by the name of Beets, who had already made five voyages to the West Indies, lead an expedition to what is now New York and took the land for "the Staats General of Holland" according to E. B. O’Callaghan’s History of New Netherlands.

Wintered on Manhattan

During the winter of 1598, a few Hollanders belonging to the Greenland Company wintered on Manhattan Island and built two small huts there. But much earlier than that, in the spring of 1524, Verrazano, a Florentine, in the employ of the French, explored the coast of North America and entered the New York Bay and went up the River. The French built a trading post on an island just below Albany.

"In 1525, Stephen Gomez, a Portuguese in the service of Spain, entered the Hudson River, sailed up it for some distance and carried away a considerable quantity of furs obtained from the Indians by trade."

These and many more came and went until a Dutch vessel, the Half Moon, a "little Yacht of about eighty tons burden" manned by about twenty men, part of them Dutch and part of them English, sailed from Amsterdam on the 4th of April, 1609, with Henry Hudson in charge. On September 4th, he entered the Bay, now New York Bay, and eventually landed at Athens among other landings. Here, he and his men traded with the Indians and later sailed as far as Albany before they returned to their homeland.

Traders first came and then followed the roving adventures who are always in the van of any pioneering move. History is not clear, but as far as I can learn, the first settlers were a company of Walloons from the country about the Scheidt, fugitives from the French intolerance and the Spanish persecution in Europe.

In 1551, Pietre Van Loon, took ship, leaving his native country of Walloon (adjoining Holland on the west) and with his family and a few faithful friends set sail for North America. Sailing up the St. Lawrence River, they landed in the now State of New York and settled in the Adirondacks, near a lake. In 1620, the grandson of Pietre, "came down from the Adirondacks with the Indians in their annual excursions for fish, prepared to settle among the whites and to get a wife. He brought down with him a wealth of skins, pelts, etc., to trade with the Dutch skippers, together with the implements of his trade . . . iron, anvils, and hammers, etc. . . . " He settled near Athens.

The first Indian deed, of which there were several was signed by "Canuskeek" April 30, 1695. There are several Indian deeds on record from 1721 to 1723 by this chief.

Colonization on the river had lagged during the first twelve years after the appearance and disappearance of the Half Moon. These were years of trade only; barter with the Indians; the exchange of beads, cloth, liquor and implements for fur.

A few gardens were planted and a few fields were cultivated where ever a man settled; but such agriculture enterprises were only as a necessary support for the traders’ local agents and for the provisioning of the traders’ ships. As the possibility of the fur trade was better appreciated the first efforts at settlement were made. That, however, was not until 1624, when the first director, Cornelius Jacobsen May, arrived in the ship, New Netherland, with thirty families of colonists.

Caterina Tricot one of the Walloon settlers, who came on this ship stated that there were about eighteen families which "settled themselves at Albany and made a small fort." "and as soon as they had built themselves some hutts of Bark ye River Indians . . .came and made Covenants of friendship with Ye sd Adrein Jorise there Commander bringing him great Presents of Bever ot oyr Peltry & desired that they might come & have a Constant free Trade with them who was concluded upon. . ."

According to this same authority, the simple first houses were only of bark, hung on wooden frames, with stone chimneys and roofs of thatch. There was too much to be done to build elaborate homes just then. There had been Indian cornfields on the plains, and the savages obligingly showed the settlers how the planting should go. Wheat was sown in time to get a first crop before the ship "New Netherland" sailed down the river Mauritious (Hudson River) and for Holland in the fall with the furs that Indian trade had brought in.

Adriaen Jorise was the second in command, Captain May commanding as long as he remained. Jorise, in the fall, made a new treaty almost as widely attended as the one of 1613 at the banks of the Normanskill.

The French, the Spanish, the Dutch, the English and many more with their different religions, were all here, already forming the most liberal colony on the Atlantic Coast.

The next article will be about the "log cabin days" in the town of Cairo. Have you any thing to contribute? 


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