History of the Town of Herkimer
From Nathaniel Benton's History of Herkimer County, 1856.

 

Contains all that part of the county bounded southerly by the Mohawk river, westerly by Schuyler, northerly by Newport and Fairfield, and easterly by Manheim.

The easterly bounds have been changed, see sub. 7, Little Falls.

The whole of Winne's and portions of Burnetsfield, Hasenclever's, Colden's and Willett's patents, and some lots of the Royal grant and Glen's purchase, lay in this town.

The town of Herkimer, when organized in 1788, contained all that part of the county of Montgomery, bounded northerly by the north bounds of the state, easterly by Palatine, then extending to the west bounds of the present town of Manheim, southerly by the Mohawk river, and westerly by a north and south line running across the Mohawk river, at the fording place, near the house of William Cunningham, leaving the same house to the west of said line. This fixed the west line of the town on the present western limits of the county, north of the Mohawk, and covered the area now embraced in the towns of Fairfield, Little Falls, Newport, Norway, Ohio, Russia, Schuyler and Wilmont, besides a respectable portion of the northern parts of the state, outside the present county line. These limits also comprehended all that portion of the German Flats and Kingsland districts, organized under the colonial governments, north of the Mohawk, and east of the now westerly bounds of the county.

These territorial divisions of Tryon county into districts were made by acts of the colonial legislature, and stood in the place of towns, or townships. It will be observed, they were very extensive, and covered territory now embraced in several counties. The Canajoharie district, as an instance, extended from the Mohawk to the south line of the state, including the settlements at Springfield, Cherry Valley and the Harper settlement. There were, however, subdivisions of them into precincts, when required.

John Adam Hartman - Well, what of him, it may be asked? What office did he hold, under the colonial or state governments, which entitles his name to be placed in this chapter of notables? Reader, I never knew, nor does local tradition tell me, he ever held any other than a voluntary, self-elected place of confidence and trust, among the people of the upper Mohawk valley. Perhaps he was not naturalized, and therefore was ineligible to office under the crown, before the revolution, for he was not born a British subject. But if seven years immersion in the toils and blood of that war, could have made any man a native American, in 1783 he was one, although born in Edenkoben, Germany, in September, 1743. Born and educated a peasant in fatherland, he was accustomed to the severe exposures of a roaming woodman's life, and the luxury of wealth had in no degree enervated a frame of great muscular power, and almost gigantic proportions, nor touched, with its alluring fascinations, a mind and a will as firm and unyielding, as he believed the cause he was engaged in, was just and good. He required no commissariat waggon to attend him on his excursions, to supply him with rations, while in pursuit of or watching the stealthy movements of the enemy. Mothers were gladdened when they knew Hans Adam was on the lookout, in the bush near by, and the confident prattle of children might be heard in the door yard; and the husbandman too could visit his fields, and attend to his cattle and crops, being assured, if danger approached, a signal from Hartman's well-tried musket would announce the fact. Such a man could not fail to find a cheerful welcome and abundant fare at every log cabin in the land, nor were his goings forth on his perilous service unattended by sincere and hopeful aspirations to heaven for his safety and success. The detail of the traditional accounts which have come to us, of his services, encounters and escapes during the perilous period of the seven years frontier conflict, familiar to the reader, would extend this notice beyond any reasonable limit. There is, however, one marked event of his life, yet familiar to the descendants of the revolutionary inhabitants of the county, which may well have place on some more permanent record, than the fading memory of man.

Soon after the peace of 1783, which gave safe conduct, not only to the former white inhabitants of the valley, who confided in the promises of princes, but to the late hostile red man of the forest, to return and look after whatever might interest or concern them, Hartman fell in company with an Indian near the present western limits of the town of Herkimer, at a country tavern, and one of them at least, if not both of them, being strongly inclined to cheer the inner-man with the enlivening influences of fire-water, the Indian soon became exhilarated and loquacious. He boasted, as he then supposed he might, with impunity, of his valorous deeds during the war, spoke of the number of rebels he had killed and scalped, and the captives he had taken; mentioned the places he had visited in the state, and the exploits of his tribe. His inebriate mind could shadow nothing but that he was the most distinguished brave of his nation. Hartman heard all this vain boasting with apparent good nature, and believed it would not be prudent, as he was unarmed, to provoke a quarrel with his boon companion; but when the Indian exhibited his tobacco pouch, made of skin taken from a white child's arm, and tanned and dressed with the nails of the fingers and thumb still hanging to it, and boasted of his trophy, he came to a resolution, and probably soon after executed it, that, drunk or sober, the Indian should no more boast of his deeds of blood, or exhibit his savage inhumanity. He inquired the way the Indian was going, and being told, said he was traveling the same direction. They left the house together, and took a path leading towards Schuyler, through a swamp. The Indian, in addition to his rifle and other weapons, carried a heavy pack. Hartman was unarmed, and being light, told the Indian, on their way, he would carry his rifle, and it was given to him. The Indian was never seen or heard of alive after he and Hartman entered the swamp. About a year afterwards a human body was found buried in the swamp muck, by the side of a log laying across the path, and a pack near it, stamped into the wet bog. A rifle was also found in a hollow tree not far distant, and other articles, showing pretty clearly that the owner when alive was not a European. Hartman, when asked where the Indian was, or had gone, said "he saw him standing on a log a few rods in advance, and he fell from it as though he had been hurt." Hartman was not always clear and distinct in his admission that he had shot the Indian; no one at the time, however, or since, doubted the fact, although there might not have been legal evidence to convict of murder. He was arrested and tried for that offense at Johnstown, but acquitted. Whoever killed the Indian was not instigated thereto for the sake of plunder. In all Hartman's after conversation in regard to this affair, he distinctly and minutely described the tobacco pouch made of human skin, and the nails attached to the finger's end. He survivied the close of the revolutionary war more than fifty-three years. He may have lived so far secluded from refined society as not to have seen a glove, and he may have been so ignorant as not to know what constituted a covering for delicate and genteel hands; and if he was at fault in this respect, he was not so great a dunce as not to know the skin of the human arm and hand, not so blind that he could not see a finger nail. Besides, who that is familiar with Indian customs and habiliments, can believe that an Indian would use a common hand glove for a pouch? How and where would he secure it? He could not fasten it to his belt, and in those days these primitive people did not wear pockets in their garments; their pouches served that purpose, and were sufficiently long to be secured by winding two or three times round the outside waist belt. The assertion, in Stone's Life of Brant, that this pouch "was probably a leather glove, which the Indian had found," seems to be wholly unsupported by fact or the appearance of truth. I have no desire to make any apology for Hartman, or that he should appear different from what he actually was, a plain, unlettered, unpretending man. He was not "very ignorant," unless the term is strictly applied to his school acquiremnets. He probably never attended school a single day in his life. Other and more imperative calls upon his time and service were in store for him, after he landed upon our western shores. "A very ignorant man, and thought it no harm to kill an Indian at any time." Is this statement borne out by the facts of the relation as here given? If Hartmen killed the Indian, and was so "very ignorant" as to think it no harm to kill one at any time, why did he not do it in the face of witnesses? Why did he seek and wait for an opportunity to do the deed when he and his late open enemy were alone? Why, if so "very ignorant," as to be only a lump of stultified humanity, did not the slayer appropriate the goods of his victim, of considerable value, to his own use? Col. Stone was either misinformed in respect to this case, or his memory very indistinct when he wrote the hisotry of it. I hope his partiality for the hero of his work did not produce an unfavorable bias on his mind towards those who had been America's most ardent and effective, though humble, defenders. Unless more than one Indian was found prowling through the valley soon after the revolution, exhibiting the skin of a human arm and hand for a tobacco pouch, and boasting of the achievement, the truth of history has been falsified in another quarter.

Hartman from some exposure and by personal conflicts with the Indians had become disabled for life so that he could not labor. He was placed on the invalid pension roll, but, shame to my country, the gratuity bestowed was not enough to sustain the shattered remnant of a frame which had been hacked, lacerated and wounded in the service of his adopted country, without additional assistance from the local overseer of the poor. He died at Herkimer and the head stone at the spot where rests his remains, erected in grateful remembrance of his services, is seen in the burial ground surrounding the Brick church at Herkimer, and in full view from the Court house steps, with the inscription cut upon it:

JOHN ADAM HARTMAN,
Born at
Edenkoben in Germany,
A great Patriot in our War for Independence,
Died April 5th, 1836,
Aged 92 years and 7 months.

The Rev. John Spinner emigrated to the United States, from Germany, in 1801, and landed at the city of New York, on the 12th of May, after a long passage of 63 days. He was born at Warback, a market town in the Electorate of Mentz, January 18th, 1768; was early in life dedicated by his parents to the clerical office, amd when only 11 years old, entered the gymnasium at Bishopsheim, where he remained three years, and was then transferred to the university of Mentz; remained in that celebrated institution of learning until 1788. In the term of his six years collegiate probation, he passed through a thorough course of studies, in philosophy, mathematics, history, languages, ancient and modern, divinity, jurisprudence, medicine. He was then admitted to a Romish clerical seminary, and in 1789 was consecrated to holy orders, in the Roman Catholic church. He assisted in celebrating the funeral obsequies of two German emperors, in accordance with the grand and imposing rites of the Romish communion. The emperor, Joseph II, died February 20th, 1790, and Leopold II, March 1st, 1792. He officiated eleven years as priest, confessor, &c, and about the year 1800, he embraced the Protestant faith and form of worship. On the 18th January, 1801, he married Mary Magdale Fedelis Brumante, a native of Loire on the Maine. She accompanied her husband to this country, and is yet living, at the residence long occupied by the venerable and deceased subject of this notice.

Mr. Spinner, soon after he landed at New York, was called to the spiritual charge of the German congregations at Herkimer and German Flats, and commenced his pastoral functions in September, 1801, and his connection with these churches continued about 40 years. He was engaged about 18 months of this period, however, as a teacher in the High school, at Utica. He conformed to the discipline of the Dutch Reformed church, but the first settlers of the valley, and the ancestors of the people, who composed the principal part of his congregations, were German Lutherans.

His services, during the long period of his ministry, were not confined to the two churches, under his special charge; in that time, he preached to congregations in Columbia, Warren, at the Indian Castle, Esquawk, Manheim and Schuyler, in Herkimer county, Deerfield, Oneida county, Manlius, Onondaga county, and Le Ray, Jefferson county, in some of which places, German emigrants had settled, when they first came into the country, and in others, were found the descendants of those Palatines, who had made their first resting place in the Mohawk valley. He was the third minister in peremanent succession called to supply these two churches, after their first organization in the German Flats.

His predecessor, Mr. Rosecrants, died a few years before 1801. The interim was probably supplied with the temporary services of clergymen of other congregations, or by those who were engaged only for short periods. He was tall in stature, dignified in deportment, and polished in his manners, accomplishments, not rarely found among the priesthood of the Romish church. He possessed a capacious and vigorous mind, which had been embellished by a thorough and systematic education in German schools, under the instruction of learned and experienced masters. With the ancient, and most of the modern European continental languages, and especially the French, Spanish and Italian, he was quite as familiar as with his own native German, but from the slow progress he made in acquiring an accurate and easy pronunciation of the English tongue, in the course of twenty-five years, he must have been unfamiliar with it when he came into the county. The younger members of his charge, were in a rapid state of transition. The German schoolmaster, abandoned his desk and ferule to the English teacher, whose language was spoken by a majority of the people, and in which the business of the courts was transacted. It was apparent this change must take place, and it was expedient not to delay it. Mr. Spinner applied himself with all the ardor of a young and ambitious man, to keep pace with the times; and preached alternately, in the German and English to suit the elder and younger members of the congregations. From long use and diligent study, aided by a profound knowledge of Latin, he had mastered the English landuage in all its significance, but, he could not pronounce the words of it accurately, and with facility. His English sermons were often able productions, and sometimes eloquent. The words were well chosen and appropriately applied. I have alluded to this matter, which to strangers may not seem pertinent to the subject in hand, because it was a cause of some disquiet, but not of repining to him while living. Mr. Spinner died at his residence in Herkimer, on the 27th of May, 1848, aged 80 years 4 months and 9 days. He was kind and affectionate as a husband and a parent, and active and zealous in the discharge of his pastoral duties. He exerted a happy influence over the German population of his charge, by whom his memory is cherished with devotion and respect. Within three weeks of his own death, six members of his former charge went to their final rest, the aggregate of whose ages was more than 480 years. An average of 80 years to seven persons dying within the space of 21 days, is an event of no common occurence.

The Rev. James Murphy was inducted, as associate minister of these two venerable congregations, by many years the oldest in the county, before the Rev. Mr. Spinner's connection was dissolved. Dr. Murphy, I understand, has no longer any ministerial charge of them.

At the election for town officers, in March, 1789, the first held after the town was organized, the following persons were chosen: For supervisor, Henry Staring; town clerk, Melger Fols; assessors, Melger Fols, George Smith, Melger Thum; collector, George Fols; constables, George Fols, Adam Bauman; commissioners of highways, Peter F. Bellinger, John Demuth, Jacob N. Weber; overseers of the poor, Henry Staring, George Weber, Jr., Michael Myers; overseers of highways, Marx Demuth, Philip Helmer, Adam Hartman, Hannes Demuth, Peter Weber, Philip Herter, Hannes Hilts, Jr., Hannes Eiseman; pound masters, George Weber, Jr., Peter Barky, Hannes Demuth, Nicholas Hilts, Hannes Schell.

Henry Staring got two offices; Melger Fols, two; George Fols, two; George Weber, Jr., two, and Hannes Demuth, two. A complete Native American High Dutch organization, and nearly every man of them a descendant of the Palatine pilgrims. The voters seem to have excluded every other nationality from their ticket. Did they mean any thing by this? In these times such an act might be thought of peculiar significance.

The town records appear to be perfect since the first organization, and judging from the known characters of the principal officers elected, there must have been some very hard political contests in the town between the federalists and republicans in olden times. Success depended very much upon the vigilance of the parties, and it was alike important to both to carry the county town. The history of the county from 1725 to the close of the revolution, comprises but few incidents which did not take place in this, or the present town of German Flats. When these two towns were erected, Herkimer had been known by no other name for sixty-three years than the German Flats, and it was not intended to make any change, but to give the name of Herkimer to the territory on the south side of the river, where the Herkimer family were first seated, where most of those who remained in the country then lived, and where the general himself was born. The committee, having the matter in charge, not knowing the localities, inquired of some person who did, whether the German Flats lay on the right or left bank of the river, expecting to be answered according to the known rule of designation, which is to start at the source of the stream and pass down, noting the objects and places on the right hand bank and on the left hand bank. Being told the German Flats was on the right bank, the answer misled the committee, and hence arose the mistake and change. The committee acted upon a settled rule of definition, which their informant did not understand.

Fort Dayton was a small stockaded fort, erected in the northerly part of the present village of Herkimer, by Col. Dayton, of the continental service, in the year 1776, for the protection of the inhabitants on the north side of the river; Fort Herkimer, on the south side, being too far off, and too difficult to reach to secure that object as effectively as was desired. A small force of continental troops or state levies, was retained at this post during the war, and it afforded safe protection to the surrounding inhabitants who sought safety within its pickets, against the marauding parties of the enemy. This spot was for many years before and after the revolution the most populous of any in this part of the country; the public buildings of the county have always remained at the village, and for several years it enjoyed a commercial prosperity unrivaled by any locality in the county; but the opening of the Erie canal damaged its prosperity a good deal. The old church, a wooden structure and a venerable relic of the past, was consumed by fire in January, 1834, when the Court house was burnt. It was soon after replaced by a handsome edifice of brick, which stands on the main street of the village, near the Court house.

Herkimer village is pleasantly situated on a plain near the junction of the Mohawk and West Canada creek, the surrounding country, except in the river and creek valleys, is a little elevated, presenting rich, varied and delightful prospects, not surpassed in the whole Mohawk valley. The large and pretty extended alluvial flat or bottom lands in this town, containing hundreds of acres, have been under cultivation more than 130 years, and still yield abundant crops in requital of the husbandman's toil, and seem to be inexhaustible. The extensive water power of the West Canada creek, which had been long unimproved, was brought into use about the year 1835, by a company of enterprising citizens of the town, and although the results of this experiment may not have fully met the expectation of some of its most sanguine projectors, there can be no doubt of the very beneficial effects to the village, by the construction and operation of mills and machinery and the use of the water power brought out by the company. That the project has not been more remunerative to the proprietors may rightfully be attributed to a nonuse of the property, and not to other causes. Why do not the capitalists in the vicinity devote their means to the erection of manufacturing establishments? They have wealth enough for that purpose. Why do the manufacturing towns in the Eastern states spring up as if by magic? By using capital. No greater facilities of transport can be required than they now have.

Jacob Small - This zealous partisan of American indepnedence deserves more than the passing notice I can give to his memory. He was a native of Germany, and came to this country when quite young. He was appointed by the governor and council captain in the regiment of Tryon county militia, under the command of Col. Peter Bellinger, on the 25th of June, 1778. He had previously served as subaltern in the militia and was a brave, active and energetic partisan officer. At what ever point between the Little Falls and Forts Herkimer and Dayton an alarm might be given, Capt. Small with such members of his company as could be collected at the moment were afoot and hastening to repel the attack of the enemy and rescue the stockaded post from assault. The beat of his company was on the north side of the Mohawk river and east of the West Canada creek. His duties as a militia officer were so incessant and required him to be absent from his family so much, that he placed them in Fort Herkimer for protection in the fall of 1777, where they remained until the war closed. His son Jacob, who at that time was about six years old, still survives, and retains a distinct recollection of this fact. The successful stratagem practiced by John Christian Shell, in 1781, when his home was assaulted by Donald McDonald at the head of a party of Indians and tories, shows that Capt. Small's name must have been familiar to the assailants, and that they did not like to await his approach within gun shot.

When Capt. Small removed the wounded refugee to Fort Dayton to have his wounds dressed, he performed the act with all the care and humanity he was capable of exerting on that occasion. The welfare of Shell's two little sons carried into captivity by the enemy may have influenced the Americans in their treatment of the disabled foe; but no matter what the motive may have been, the humane conduct of Capt. Small and his party contrasts favorably with that of their relentless and savage enemies.

Although there was but little active warfare on this frontier during the summer and autumn of 1782, and although Capt. Small had more than five successive years taken his life in his hand and gone forth with his men to beat off and chastise the skulking and savage enemy, and escaped unharmed, he was shot in the apple orchard where he and one or two of his neighbors had gone to gather apples, in the fall of 1783, three days after the definitive articles of peace were signed at Paris between the United States and Great Britian. The formal agreement for the cessation of hostilities between the two powers was not signed until January 20th, 1783, but there had been a virtual cessation after the surrender of Cornwallis, except as to the petty warfare carried on by the Indians, who seemed to have but little respect for a power that would acknowledge itself beaten by its rebellious subjects.