The people we call Palatines were displaced during the turmoil of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). More than 13,000 mostly, though exclusively, Protestant Germans from the Middle Rhine region of the Holy Roman Empire first fled to England.
Known then as “Poor Palatines,” opposition to their immigration resulted in nearly 3,000 of them (about a third the size of the population of the city of New York) being sent to the colonial Province of New York in 1710. Many were forced to work off their passages at at work camps on Livingston Manor. In 1712, more than a hundred other families, sought new lives in the Schoharie Valley, then a frontier between the English, French, and Native People. From there, some moved to the Helderberg Escarpment, in what is now Western Albany County.
In 1787 Stephen Van Rensselaer III had William Cockburn survey his land atop the escarpment. The purpose was to mark 160 square acre lots for lease. The Palatines were already well established on irregular improved lots. A sawmill located at the falls on Fox Creek at Beaverdam (now Berne) was built about 1750 by Jacob Weidman (it is now the site of Pine Grove [modular home] Park).
There was a second sawmill along Fox Creek, described by Cockburn as “a Middling good Lot, Well Watered by the Foxen Kill on which is a fine Sawmill, with a gang of Saws. The Werners & See’s [Zehs] are the Chief proprietors of it. Chiefly Pine & Oak Timber.”
The Warners and Zehs came from the Schoharie Valley, and were likely squatters, as were many early Berne and Knox settlers, on land granted by the Dutch to the van Rensselaer family in 1629.
“H. See” lived on the adjoining Lot 584 to the east. The north part of Lot 565 between Helderberg Trail and Fox Creek was farmed by“Christian See.” The south part of Lot 565, on the south side of Fox Creek, was the farm of “Johannis Werner” as was the east part of Lot 585 just west of what is now Warners Lake. The accompanying illustration does not show the three lots his brother Christopher Warner had on the north side of the Lake.
The 1787 survey map shows “H. Werner” on Lot 581 east part (upper left corner of illustration). Cockburn’s survey notes say,“This land in Lot 581 is very poor and lies chiefly on the north side of a very steep hill. It is well watered by the Foxenkill on the north side of which the land is middling good. Henry Warner has got a part of his improvement on it. Beech, maple some elm and fine timber.”
Lot 582, the survey says: “This is a good lot and is well watered by the Vosenkill [Foxenkill]. Henry Warner has got a framed house and barn and a fine improvement on this lot. Beech, maple, and hemlock timber” A 1790 van Rensselaer record says, “Henry Warner’s property leased. John H. Warner, his son, owns it.”
Some local historians say that a Zeh built the “1795 house” opposite the Hilltowns Senior and Community Center, although van Rensselaer lease records and 1787 survey map indicate the house may have been built before 1787 by Henry Warner.
1787 all five of Mathias Warner’s sons lived in the area when the Beaver Dam reformed church confirmed his younger son, Philip, who was single and undoubtedly living at home. His father, Mathias Warner, moved his family to Beaver Dam by 1765 and helped build the Warner and Zeh sawmill.
The 1866 Beers map shows an“F. & S. Mil” (Feed and Sawmill) in the same location. In the early 20th-Century the mills were still being used. The millpond dam, flume, and buildings’ foundations are still visible.
The Zeh and Warner family burying grounds were located on the eastern part of the sawmill lot. The earliest known burial was in 1777. A trail was located along Fox Creek between the burying ground and the creek. Cockburn’s 1787 map shows the wagon road that is now Helderberg Trail further north.
Dominie Nicholas Sommer, the pastor of the Lutheran Church in Schoharie, wrote that he ministered in Beaver Dam: “February 1765. I preached for the first time on Johannes Zeh’s house… April 1766 I administered the Lord’s Supper in Beaverdam.” The Zehs and Warners played a role in the 1790 incorporation of the Lutheran Church in Beaver Dam. In July 1797, the church leased lot 564, containing the sawmill and Zeh and Warner family burying grounds. A church was constructed near the cemetery, now known as the Pine Grove Lutheran Cemetery, using planks sawed at the mill.
The 1787 Cockburn survey map shows no homes near the hamlet of East Berne. In 1791 Johannes Werner Sr. leased the 126 acre Lot 546, where the hamlet of East Berne is.
In his 1954 compilation of records, “Descendents of Christopher Warner,” Willis Warner says it was on two acres of this lot that Johannes, in partnership with his brother Christopher built a grist mill. The hamlet that formed around the mill was later known as Warner’s Mill. The name became East Berne in 1825 when the Post Office began.
In 1822 Johannes Warner’s lease on Lot 546 was inherited by his son Johannes Jr. who in 1838 sold it to Lehman Lobdell. An 1854 map shows a gristmill in East Berne owned by Lobdell fed by the outlet for Warners Lake and a sawmill on Fox Creek behind the current East Berne Fire House.
A 1932 NYS Historical Marker, halfway between the two mills in East Berne, is said to identify the location of the 1765 Warners’ mill. However, as Van Rensselaer’s lease records make clear, it was about 1791 the Warners established their sawmill in East Berne. The 1866 Beers map of Berne shows an F & S Mill (Feed and Sawmill) along Fox Creek at the site of Zeh and Warners mill.
Illustrations, from above: part of Cockburn’s 1787 survey map; a tracing from a part of the southwest part of the Manor of Rensselaerwyck; and Beer’s 1866 Albany County map showing Berne.