Life Of Traders In Early History Of Cairo Revealed

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


Newspaper article courtesy of Linda Larsen. Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin


(Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a series of articles on the history of Cairo Township prepared by Mrs. Webber. Her last article dealt with the first white settlers in the area. Today’s considers the traders and permanent settlers.)

* * *

The traders coming in the fall of the year, followed the trails of the Indians, spread out over the hinderlands, and in the spring returned to the river with the pelts which they had purchased from the Indians.

How did these people live: these men naturally followed the manner of the Indians:--eating corn and meat and smoking their tobacco, living in their circular wigwams or building simple log-cabins of their own. Their clothing, we are told, were mostly of leather of the animals tanned by themselves or by the Indian women.

In 1624 and 1625, when the ships arrived with families and their possessions, there was a decided change. According to Maud Wilder Goodwin in "Dutch and English on the Hudson," these first people lived in small log huts. These houses were hand-hewn timbers with dove-tailed corners constructed generally with a divided door and an opening for a window over which a tanned skin was hung. Later glass was brought from Holland and installed. The floor was at first of dirt or flat stones. Later some of these were covered with plank, but not all. The cracks between the logs were filled with clay, and the roofs were thatched with straw.

Pioneer People

These were pioneer days and pioneer people.

She continues, "the costume of the wife of a typical settler usually consisted of a single garment reaching from neck to ankle. In the summer time she went bareheaded and barefooted. She helped her husband to plant his grain and to gather the crops as well as taking care of the needs of the family. She was able to grasp a rifle, gather her children about her and with a faultless courage defend them and her home even unto death."

This may not be a romantic presentation of our early forefathers who lived here in the town of Cairo, but it bears the marks of truth and shows us a stalwart race, strong to hold their own in a new and strange country.

These pioneers, who followed the trails of the trappers from Catskill toward the west, built a cabin here and there, at South Cairo, Sandy Plains, Indian Ridge, Round Top, at Cairo, Woodstock and then on toward the Central Trail of Central New York. Little is recorded of these people. We have to draw our conclusions from a few facts that we gleam here and there.

3 Distinct Classes

On May 4, 1624, Peter Minuit came from Holland as the Governor of New Netherlands. Then there followed three distinct classes of settlers. These included freemen, who emigrated from Holland at their own expense and were "allowed as much land as they could properly develop;" the farmers and the farm servants, the latter sent over by the patroon. The patroon’s farmer were suitably stocked with cows, horses or oxen, and occasionally sheep. They were furnished plows, wagons and other necessary equipment. Also log houses and other log buildings were provided, all preliminary expenses being paid by the patroon.

During the rule of the Dutch Governors, Minuit, Wouter Van Twiller (April 1633 to 1637) William Kieft (1637-1657), and Petrus Stuyvesant (May 11, 1647 to Sept. 4, 1664) laws and great prosperity visited all of the colony. Permanent settlements were guaranteed and the patroon estates were established.

In April, 1625, The West India Company shipped to the settlement valuable shiploads of 103 head of livestock—stallions, mares, bulls and cows, besides hogs and a few sheep. (The weaving of cloth was prohibited by Holland). Each animal had its "Respective servant." And in addition the ship carried agriculture implements and "all furniture proper for the dairy," as well as a number of settlers.

Cradles Multiply

From this time on there was a steadily increasing group of native citizens, and the Dutch cradles multiplied in the cabins.

It is not certain when Johannes Strope and family settled at Wa-wan-te-pe-kok or the present town of Round Top, but we have been told that they lived there sometime before 1780.

Johannes Strope and his wife, their son, Bastian, and his family and their daughter who married Jacob Schermerhorn of Leeds, with their four children—an infant in arms, one two-years-old and two older children, lived in their log cabin across the road from where the Kaiser and Markman boarding house is today.

This cabin was burned in 1780, when the Indians killed the father and mother and took Frederick Schermerhorn, who was visiting his brother, Jacob, captive. Mrs. Jacob fled to "a family by the name of Timmerman who lived near the mouth of the Kiskatom Creek. Jacob had left early, on this fateful day, for the Wynkoop’s mill at Kaatserskill.

Frederick Schermerhorn was taken by the Indians to Canada. About 1785 he married and returned to Round Top, where he purchased a farm about one mile from the Round Top Methodist Church and within a short distance of where he was captured by the Indians. He built a log cabin and later a frame house where he lived the remainder of this life.

These same Indians returned after one day’s journey captured a white boy and a Negro man, but history does not give their names. We can assume that they lived in this neighborhood.

Ebenezer Beach settled in this same locality in 1778 and owned the place previously occupied by Harrison Jones in 1884 and by Heinrick A. Kropp today.

In 1625, Negro slavery was established and there were about 10 Negro families in this township. "They were treated in the main with humanity and several were manumitted on the ground of long and faithful service."

This give us only a brief sketch of one settlement, but there are many more interesting facts about Round Top as well as each of the other settlements which will be woven into the story of Cairo.

Thanks for the letters and material which so many have contributed, and which help to unravel the early lives of our forefathers.


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