In 1652, New Netherland Director General Peter Stuyvesant declared that Fort Orange and everything around it, including the village outside the fort, often called Oranje after the fort, was independent of the ownership of the Van Rensselaer family. He named the small mostly Dutch village “Beverwyck.”
Possibly at the urging of the Van Rensselaers, their earlier manager Arendt Van Curler (Corlear) began planning the construction of a new village.
In the spring of 1661, a number of residents of Beverwyck (later Albany) and Rensselaerswyck thought that they would be more advantageously situated if they moved to Groote Vlachte (Great Flatts, or later Schenectady). This area was flatter and easier to farm and also was located closer to Indigenous People traveling the Mohawk River to trade.
They felt that they could intercept Native People at the eastern end of the navigable part of the Mohawk River where they normally departed their canoes and started their walk to Beverwyck. This made it far easier for the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), but was more work for the traders at what is now Albany who would have to transport trade goods to Groote Vlachte and bring the furs the ten miles back to Beverwyck.
Arendt Van Curler went to New Amsterdam (later the city of New York) and requested permission from Director General Peter Stuyvesant to purchase the land at Groote Vlachte from the Indigenous owners. On June 23, 1661, the permission was formally granted on the condition that when the land was purchased, ownership was to be transferred to the Dutch West India Company. Arendt Van Curler left his farm at the Flatts, selling it to the Schuylers [now Schuyler Flatts] and with his followers moved to Groote Vlachte.
Almost immediately the merchants of Beverwyck objected, seeing that the new settlement was intercepting traders before they got to Beverwyck. This threatened the existing economic structure around Albany, already in turmoil over traders dealing with Native People in the woods before they arrived in Beverwyck.
The merchants of Beverwyck petitioned the Director General and he issued a directive requiring the people of Groote Vlachte “to promise not to carry on any trade with the Wilden under whatever name or pretext.”
A petition was drawn-up for the Groote Vlachte settlers to sign, pledging “that we will have no dealings with the savages, whatever name they may have, on the said flat.” The people of Groote Vlachte objected and refused to sign the pledge. It was now clear what they wanted to do, but both the Albany merchants and Stuyvesant were opposed.
On July 23rd, 1661, “Sieur Arent van Corlear” (Van Curler) purchased a parcel of land from the Mohawk, which was identified in the deed as Schonowe. Mohawk representatives signed the deed with the figure of a bear, a turtle and a wolf.
Van Curler had obtained a location closer to the Mohawk, but further from Fort Orange, and therefore far less secure.
In the spring of 1662, about 300 Mohawk made a foray north through the far northeastern corner of the English colonies near the Canadian border and along the upper waters of the Kennibec and Penobscot rivers. At Fort Penobscot, they surprised a party of N’dakina (Abenaki / Abénaquis) and killed or captured many of them. They also killed a number of cattle belonging to the English and were reported to have “committed other depredations.”
The English governors of Boston and Nova Scotia contacted Peter Stuyvesant and asked him to arrange a meeting with the Mohawk. At Fort Orange, the English emissaries asked the Mohawk why they did not honor the covenants that they had entered into with the English the previous year. The Mohawk said that they had made no treaty with the N’dakina, and, if any English goods were destroyed, they would compensate them. They then abruptly left the room.
During the recess, the Mohawk informally met with the Beverwyck traders who they knew well. They told them that the English were no better than hogs and if the English did not at once accept their overtures, “they would in three weeks go to the frontier plantations of Connecticut and pillage them.” The afternoon discussions went better however, and the Mohawk leaders agreed to compensate the English for their losses and to take into consideration the release of the captured Abénaquis.
At this same time, three Frenchmen escaped from a war party of Mohawks and Oneidas who had attacked an outpost near Montreal. The Iroquois had killed fourteen Frenchmen and eighty Native People. The three famished Frenchmen, who had not eaten in eight days except for tree bark and wild roots, were hidden and cared for at Fort Orange.
At noon on June 7, 1663, the Esopus wiped out a Dutch settlement at what is now Esopus on the Hudson River, 55 miles south of Beverwyck. Twenty-one male inhabitants were killed and 42 women and children taken captive. This triggered a directive from Stuyvesant to Beverwyck instructing that defenses be built immediately.
Stuyvesant wrote that “we are informed that Fort Orange is bared of soldiers and destitute of the proper means of defense … we would consider it advisable that the company’s stone building be fortified and all the wretched huts be removed with the least expense and greatest expedition.” He continued, “Your Honors will have been taught, I trust, by the occurrence at Esopus not to put faith in Indians nor let them into your houses in large numbers, much less provide them with strong liquor or ammunition except for saving the captive women and children [from Esopus] to which the greatest effort must be made.”
The settlers at Beverwyck had never spent much of their time constructing proper defenses, knowing that they were so enormously outnumbered by the local Mohawks that defenses were futile. There were often more Native People inside the community’s walls than outside. At night, it was common practice for the Iroquois to sleep inside the residents’ houses. Many colonists felt that their best means of survival was to remain on good terms with Indigenous People and benefit from trade with them. Native People also did not want to lose their most ready source of tools, knives, clothing, guns and powder.
According to Stuyvesant’s order, Fort Orange was fortified somewhat and eight cannon were installed. However the patroon of Rensselaerswyck, Jeremias Van Rensselaer, claimed three of those cannon and had them moved to the small fortified building at Crailo, which he had built on the east side of the Hudson River at Greenbush (now the city of Rensselaer). Three small artillery pieces were also installed on the stone Dutch Church.
The Dutch colonists also appealed to the “High Mightinesses” at the Dutch West India Company for help, reminding them of their pledge to provide protection for them when they were recruited to relocate to Beverwyck. In their appeal for protection they noted the English were more of a threat than Native People. The residents of the English colonies outnumbered those of New Netherland by six to one.
Before much could be done, the settlement at Beverwyck was nearly wiped out by a smallpox epidemic that was reported to have taken members of nearly every family. The Dutch church bell tolled daily for new victims. Hundreds of Native People also died from the same disease, which reduced the alarm over any attack from them.
In 1664, the English seized New Netherland with Stuyvesant getting little support from the Van Rensselaers or the local Indigenous People.
During this period, friendship between the those around Fort Orange (now renamed Albany) and the Mohawk and their Iroquois brethren remained strong, but the community was always fearful of attack from Native People living along the Hudson River below Albany, and the Indian Nations to the east. In 1675, Native People in New England under the leadership of Metacomet (known by the English as King Philip) attacked and destroyed the settlements of Northfield, Deerfield, Hadley and Springfield in Western Massachusetts, not far from Albany.
In December 1675, Metacomet, with a force of about 1,000 others, was camped 40 miles east of Albany in the Berkshires. Since the Hudson River was frozen and they could have easily traveled over the ice an appeal went out to Edmund Andros, the administrator of the North American English colonies, for soldiers. Instead, a deal was made with the Mohawk to attack Metacomet. While they were on this expedition, the Mohawk women, children and older men were moved into Albany. The Mohawk successfully drove Philip east and a new fort, Fort Frederick, was built at Albany in 1676; Captain Gosen Gerritsen van Schaick was placed in command.
Although very friendly with their Dutch trading partners in Albany, the Mohawk and other Haudenosaunee warriors frequently made forays into New England and as far south as Maryland and Virginia. Their trade with the Dutch at Albany had furnished them with guns and ammunition as well as swords, knives and all kinds of tools, clothing, cooking utensils and boots. As a result, they were by then the most powerful Indian Nation in the East. They regularly raided Native allies of the English colonists.
In 1685, at the request of the governor of Virginia, Albany officials tried to mediate a termination of hostilities between the Haudenosaunee and Native Nations friendly to the English settlers in Virginia. A meeting was held in Albany between the representatives of the province of Virginia and sachems of the Pamunkey, Chickahominy, Matapony and Pohatan and the Haudenosaunee Mohawks, Senecas, Oneidas, Onondagas and Cayugas. A peace covenant chain was developed between the tribes. The Mohawk subsequently referred to Albany as the “House of Peace.”
In 1686, the Catholic Governor Thomas Dongan granted a city charter for the first time to both the city of New York and the city of Albany. In February 1687, Dongan reported to the English Privy Council concerning the efforts of the French to wrest control of the trade with Indigenous People:
“They [the French] have fathers [priests] still among the 5 nations … the Maquaes [Mohawks], the Sinicaes [Senecas], Cayouges [Cayugas], Oneidas and Onondagues [Onondagas] and have converted many of them to the Christian faith and doe their utmost to draw them to Canada, to which place there are already 600 or 700 retired and more like to [go].
“I have prevailed with the Indians to consent to come back from Canada on condition that I procure for them a peace of Land called Serachtague [Saratoga] lying upon Hudson’s River about 40 miles above Albany and there furnish them with priests.
“The great difference between us [the French and Albany settlers] is about the Beaver Trade and in truth they have the advantage of us in it & that by noe other means than by their industry in making discoveries in the country before us. Before my coming hither noe man of our government ever went beyond the Sinicas Country [the Seneca’s settlements]. Last year some of our people went a trading among the farr Indians called the Ottowais [Ottawas] inhabiting about three month’s journey to the West … of Albany from whence they brought a good many beavers. They found their people more inclined to trade with them than the French, the French not being able to protect them from the arms of our Indians with whom they have had a continued warr soe that our Indians brought away this very last year a great many prisoners.”
Early in September 1687, word was brought to Albany that the French and their Native allies were preparing to invade from the north and attack settlements at Albany and Schenectady, along with the Mohawk villages along the Mohawk to the west. Governor Dongan sent directives to the Haudenosaunee to move to Albany and he moved ten percent of his military force from the city of New York to man the defenses at Albany. (The French at this time believed their southern border was in what is now Warren County, NY.)
In February 1688, Dongan had 400 foot soldiers, 50 horse soldiers and 800 Native warriors at Albany but reported back to England that he was running out of money to pay them.
In the spring of 1688, English authorities influenced by Boston officials, joined New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Jersey to the other English colonies in the northeast to form a united territory called the Dominion of New England with its capitol at Boston. Director General Edmund Andros was placed in charge of the province. Dongan remained the governor of New York.
Meanwhile, since English King James II had been crowned in 1685, Protestants in America were alarmed over his efforts to promote Catholicism. Catholicism was already mandated in France and Spain and England’s King William was replacing ministers and government officials in both England and the colonies with Catholics. When the colonists heard that Prince William of Orange, the stadtholder of the United Netherlands, had landed in Devonshire, England, to “maintain the Protestant religion and the [religious] liberties of England” and drive out King James II, they began an effort to drive King James’ Catholic appointees out of America.
In December 1688, King James II was overthrown. He fled to France, which then declared war on England in an attempt to return Catholicism to power. That same month, the French began their plot to seize Albany.
Sieur Chevalier Hector de Callieres Bonnevue, the governor of Montreal wrote to the Marquis de Seignelay in January 1689:
“The plan is to go directly to Orange [Albany] the most advanced town of New York, one hundred leagues from Montreal which I would undertake to get possession of and to proceed thence to Manathe [Manhattan] … I demand for that only the troops at present maintained by his majesty in Canada.
“I propose to embark with two thousand men … My design is to conduct them by the Richelieu River to Lake Champlain as far as the carrying place, which is within 3 leagues of the Albany River [Hudson River] that runs to Orange. I shall conceal this expedition which must be kept very secret, by saying that the king has commanded me to… dictate peace to the Iroquois… I shall… tell the Iroquois by some of their nation that I am not come to wage war against them but only to reduce the English.
“This town [Albany] is about as large as Montreal, surrounded by pickets, at one end of which is a fort surrounded by palisades and has four bastions. There is a garrison of one hundred and fifty men of three companies and some pieces of cannon. The town of Orange may contain about one hundred and fifty houses and three hundred inhabitants… the majority of whom are Dutch…”
News of the elevation of Princess Mary and Prince William of the Netherlands to Queen and King of England was greeted with great fanfare by the Protestants, many of the Dutch included, of Albany.
On April 18, 1688, a delegation of residents of Boston, supporters of William and Mary, asked Governor Andros to “surrender and deliver up the government of New England.” He refused and was imprisoned. New York Governor Dongan retired, and returned to England for his safety. At Albany, Major Jervis Baxter, a Roman Catholic, was the commander of the garrison at Fort Orange. Captain Jonathan Bull of Connecticut replaced him. Lieutenant Governor Nicholson, also a Catholic, was forced out of office in the city of New York.
Captain Jacob Leisler, a radical Protestant and one of the commanders of the garrison at New York, seized the fort there and began to forcibly remove all Catholic officeholders despite the mayor and common council’s objections. Leisler attempted to appoint himself governor of the province.
When Leisler began issuing similar directives to Albany, municipal officials rebelled. They refused to recognize Leisler who in turn refused to send military support to Albany to help in the attack they now knew was coming from the French in Canada.
Meanwhile Louis XIV, King of France, issued instructions to his officials in Canada to begin the invasion of New York and proceed with the attack on Albany that had been planned by Bonnevue. When Albany officials appointed Lieutenant Sharpe (who was accused by Leisler of being a Catholic) commander of Fort Frederick, Leisler sent a force to Albany in an attempt to take command. Albany was now threatened from from both the north and south.
At a meeting on October 26, 1689, officials at Albany resolved that:
“… since we are now informed by Persons coming from New Yorke, that Captain Jacob Leisler is designed to send up a company of armed men, upon pretence to assist us in this Country, who intend to make themselves Master of their Majesties’ fort and this City, and carry Persons and chief Officers of this city Prisoners to New York … by no means will they [Leisler’s forces] be admitted to have the command of their majesties fort or this City …”
Mayor Peter Schuyler was appointed commander of Fort Frederick and Lieutenant Sharpe second-in-command to blunt Leisler’s complaint that Sharpe was Catholic and the Albany fort was under the control of Catholics.
Leister’s force, led by Jacob Milborne, arrived at Albany on November 9, 1689. In an attempt to obtain local support, Milborne sent emissaries to Schenectady to tell them that he would support their claims to participate in the fur trade if they would join his efforts at Albany. He also held public meetings with Albany residents to try to win them over to his anti-Catholic teachings. He advocated the voiding of all “illegal actions” of the “illegal Catholic King” James II, which would have included the voiding of the Albany City Charter, given by the Catholic Dongan.
After several days of meetings, Milborne saw that he was unable to persuade municipal and county officials to comply with his demands. He marched his force to the fort and demanded that the gates be opened. Mayor Peter Schuyler refused. Schuyler had approached the Mohawk and requested that they establish camp around the fort. After several hours of arguments, during which Milborne left and returned, some of the Mohawk threatened to fire on Milborne and his men. Millborne backed down and left.
Some Albany burghers who had become Milborne partisans, and feeling that they needed his protection, agreed to accept his troops and pay their expenses if they would agree to be commanded by Albany’s Joachim Staets. The next day, Captain Bull returned from Connecticut with 87 additional men and they were welcomed at Albany.
The following Friday, Lieutenant Enos Talmadge and 24 men were sent to guard Schenectady. It was said that the tumult created by Milborne had caused considerable distraction and disunity in Schenectady for which they would pay a “bloody penalty.”
Meanwhile, in Canada, unable to raise the 2,000 troops originally planned, Sieur Le Moyne de Sainte Helene and Lieutenant Daillebout de Mantet left Montreal with about 100 French troops and another 100 Native warriors. They followed the planned route, but when they reached the point where the route to Albany branched toward Schenectady, they took it, as their force was far too small to execute the original plan of taking Albany and then proceeding on to New York.
On February 8, 1690, the raiding party reached Schenectady. The night was cold and it had snowed heavily. They found an open unguarded gate. Led by the French, the force quietly moved in, placing attackers at the door of every house. When all were in place blood-curdling cries signaled the attack.
At once all doors and windows were broken in and any defenders were killed. Residents who offered no resistance were dragged outside into the cold in their nightclothes.
A party of Frenchmen attacked the small fortress housing Lieutenant Enos Talmadge and his men, most of who were sleeping. All of the soldiers were killed and the building set on fire.
Sixty people, most of the men and anyone who fought in defense, including women and children, were killed. About 70 persons, mostly old men, women and children, were herded into the center of the town.
Over the next two hours, the town was sacked. Everything of any value to the attackers was taken. Anything that could not be carried home was thrown onto a large fire.
When the sacking of the homes was completed, more than 80 (all but two) were set on fire.
The raiding party then posted sentinels and spent the night resting for the return trip. About 40 women were released and sent running in the cold and snow toward Albany. Frostbite took a great toll on these women with twenty-five reportedly losing limbs from the cold. Twenty-seven prisoners, mostly young men and boys, were taken captive back to Canada.
Only one Frenchman and one Native person were killed in the attack, but three other Native warriors and sixteen French soldiers were lost on the trip back to Canada, some possibly from wounds or frostbite. In the morning after the attack, Captain Bull and his force arrived at Schenectady to bury the dead and frozen bodies of the inhabitants, including Lieutenant Talmadge and the members of his command.
A small force of Albanians and Mohawk under Peter Schuyler pursued the attackers to Canada and killed and captured some stragglers. Schuyler’s group also attacked some northern French soldiers and their Native allies in retaliation.
Illustrations: “Schenectady Massacre” by Samuel Sexton ca 1833 inaccurately portraying only Native warriors attacking the village (Schenectady County Historical Society); The Roemer map of Albany 1698 showing Fort Frederick and Beverwyck; map of Native American communities in the Upper Hudson River Valley; “Philip, King of Mount Hope” from the Thomas Church’s The Entertaining History of King Philip’s War by engraver and silversmith Paul Revere (1716); Sir Edmund Andros (Rhode Island State House collection); Jacob Leisler statue on North Avenue in New Rochelle, New York; and a drawing made to illustrate a French soldier or militiaman of Canada in winter war dress around 1690 to 1700 during fighting in Newfoundland and Hudson Bay during the War of the League of Augsburg, 1688-1697 (published in 1722).