Page images



[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

HE name of "Knickerbocker" has become a generic term, by whicb are designated the descendants of the original Dutch settlers of the State of New York, and has here the same significance as the word "Creole" in Louisiana, which is applied to those whoso families date back to early occupation of that State by the French. In more recent times " Knickerbocker" has become a favorite prefix to numerous products of industry, and a popular name for ships, steamers, hotels, and companies of every description, until the very origin of the word has been almost lost iu its multitudinous significations.

In reality, this now universal patronymic belongs to one of those ancient Dutch families who, as long ago as the seventeenth century, were large proprietors in the fertile valleys of the Mohawk and Upper Hudson, that section of the State having been selected for occupancy by the early settlers of means and social position, in preference to the uninviting region now the metropolis, which was left to traders and marketgardeners, the scanty soil offering no attractions, as it could only be cultivated in Voi. LIV.-No. 3l».-3

limited patches between the barren rocky ridges. These same rocks have, however, proved to be mines of wealth to the descendants of those frugal tillers of the soil, by reason of the extraordinary increase in population and the conversion of their vegetable gardens into city lots at fabulous prices. The maternal head of one of the present wealthy families of the city of New York occupied for many years a stall in the public market, where she disposed of the prolific cabbages.her own hands had cultivated.

The early Dutch residents of Albany and its vicinity constituted a kiud of landed aristocracy, and, wifh their numerous retainers and slaves, held a sort of feudal court in the grand mansions which may still be found dotted here and there in the interior of the State. The family seat of the Knickerbockers at Schagbticoke is one of these ancestral homes, around whose hearth-stones the associations of by-gone


generations gather in the shadows of advancing time. The spacious edifice is built in the quaint Flemish style of architecture, with its steep pyramidally shaped roof like that of the venerable Dutch church that formerly stood in the centre of State Street, in the city of Albany. Among the founders of the now prosperous commonwealth of New York this family was conspicuous in the council and the field.

The head of the family in America was Herman Jansen Knickerbocker, son of Johannes Von Bergen Knickerbocker. He was born in Friesland, Holland, in the year 1648, entered the Dutch navy at an early age, and served under Van Tromp and De Rnyter during that period in the history of Holland which was so remarkable for its naval

victories. Ho was severely wounded at the battle of Solebay, off the coast of England, where the Dutch ships engaged the combined English and French fleets. On his recovery he resigned his commission and came to America, where he soon after married the daughter of Myndert Hermance^ Von De Bogert, the wellknown surgeon of the Dutch ship Endraaijht, and subsequently commissary of Fort Orange. Von De Bogert was an eccentric and high-tempered individual. At one time, iu a dispute with Pieter Stuyvesant, the Director-General, while they were crossing the river, he attempted to throw the testy Pieter overboard, and would have succeeded if not prevented. He died a violent death, brought about by his ungoverned temper. Seven children resnlted from this marriage, the eldest of whom, Johannes, inherited the paternal estates of Schaghticoke; and the second son, Lawrence, succeeded to his mother's property in what is now Dutchess County, where that branch of the family still resides.

Schaghticoke—pronounced Skat-e-coke— is said to be an Algonquin word, signifying

"the meeting of the waters." It is a township in the northwesterly part of Rensselaer County. The waters of the Hoosick and Tomhannock meet here in a circular valley surrounded on nearly all sides by high hills. The soil is exceedingly fertile and the landscape very beautiful. In the midst of this valley stands the mansion of the Knickerbockers, shown in the engraving on page

The principal entrance is reached through an avenue of ancient trees, time-worn anil scarred, that climb high above the roof, like watch-towers overlooking the plain. The vine-covered porch, with its hospitable seat on either side, welcomes the visitor, and the huge brass knocker on the upper leaf of the old-fashioned oaken door summons the cheerful host.

The main hall is in itself a room. Quaint settees and an antique book-case, with rare old engravings on the walls, constitute the furniture, while over all an air of quiet comfort and repose pervades. The principal stairway is

in the second hall, separated from the first by folding-doors. On either side of the main hall are the reception and drawing rooms, while the dining-room and library open into the rear hall. In the olden time the dining-room contained the historic fireplace, with its tiled front and sides representing the scenes and events of Bible history—the lives of the apostles and martyrs in blue figures on a white ground, the bearing of the cross, the crucifixion and resurrection, with all the attendant incidents of sorrow and sadness. These crude delineations were well calculated to impress the great truths of the Bible upon the minds of those who gathered around the glowing embers during the long winter evenings—more forcibly, perhaps, than years of reading and patient study of the sacred text itself. Beyond the dining-room, in the large wing, are the kitchen and servants' apartments. The great cellar, which extends under the entire building, was the slaves' quarters in winter. In summer they lived in cabins for the most part; but for greater comfort dnr

[ocr errors]


ing the extreme cold weather, and also as a measure of security against attack or siege from the French or Indians, these subterranean quarters were provided. The huge fireplace in the cellar, represented on page 39, was just as it still appears. How many volumes of marvelous conceptions from the half-developed Ethiopian brain might these old bricks relate! Wonderful feats of purely imaginary valor, unearthly tales of ghosts and goblins, all intermingled with that vein of quaiut humor which the African, with his rare powers of imitation, so readily imbibed from his Dutch master. All the slaves in . the State of New York were emancipated in the year 1824, but many of them remained at the old homestead until death removed them from it, their attachment to homo and to the members of the family remaining undiminished to the last moment. In fact, the treatment of their slaves, as well as of the Indians, by the Dutch settlers of this

State was always marked by the highest elements of humanity and Christian kindness. In many respects the policy which they pursued toward the Indians formed a marked contrast to that which was followed by the New England and Virginia settlers. It would seem that these sturdy pioneers of freedom desired to exemplify in all their acts those grand principles of civil and religious liberty which they had transplanted from Holland to America. The Indians and the negroes shared alike in the benefits arising therefrom, and the seed was at the same time sown of those free institutions that forty millions of people now enjoy undisturbed by prejudice or caste. It was not alone in their public policy, but also in their domestic life, that we find a strong development of the peculiar Dutch characteristics. The family altar was held in sacred esteem. The cradle, the bridal, and the tomb were surrounded by the highest attributes of filial affection, conscientious devotion to duty, and reverent love. Among no other people are the ties of kindred more clearly recognized or more firmly maintained. Through the long, terrible, and heroic struggle that the people of the Netherlands maintained for seventy years with Spain in all the plenitude of its power, they fought with desperation for the homos they had created in a conflict almost as desperate with the gigantic forces of nature. The land they had redeemed from the sea with so much skill, patience, and fortitude, whose barren wastes they had replaced with luxuriant harvests, whose opulent cities attested their gTeat industry and thrift, whose strong fortresses exhibited their indomitable energy and courageous determination, whose seats of learning illustrated their intellectual development, and whose cheerful firesides every where gave evidence of domestic comfort and social enjoyment—this land, the only spot on all the continent of Europe where the tree of liberty found nourishment and life, while the surging tide of bigotry and despotism assailed it on every side—this land became the citadel of freedom, and its people assumed of right the heroic place in the history of civilization.

It would be strange indeed if the seeds sown by such husbandmen in the virgin soil of the New World should fail to produce an abundant harvest. Yet they were not suffered to gather that harvest in peace, or to enjoy in security the fruits of their labors.

[merged small][ocr errors]

guine struggles before its conclusion. Every plain became a battle-ground, and every hill a sepulchre. No one who is unacquainted with the early history of the State of New York can form a just conception of the innumerable trials aud hardships that were forced upon the first settlers. The home we are endeavoring to describe is situated in the very channel through which the tide of battle ebbed and flowed that for nearly two centuries swept up and down the great natural pathway to the Canadas. Every where the relics of war can still be found, and the traditions of those terrible days are still repeated around the winter fireside.

The beautiful valley of Schaghticoke wag a point (Pappui through all those years of incessant turmoil. It is now nearly two centuries since it was selected by Governor Audros as an outpost for the defense of the infant colony against incursions from the north. The French with their proselyted Indian allies in the year 1689, by a forced march in the dead of the winter, surprised and burned the town of Schenectady, mas


warfare between Celt and Saxon, Latin and Teuton, that marks with crimson lines the dark pages in the history of Europe. But the descendants of the defenders of Antwerp were equal to the contest. The spirit that incited the massacre of St. Bartholomew and instigated the cruelties of " the bloody Alva" was met by the same high courage that inspired the " Beggars of the Sea" for three generations of successful resistance to oppression and persecution. The strife was bitter and protracted, and the valley of the Upper Hudson was the scene of many san

sacring nearly all the inhabitants, the French officers even rivaling the Indians in the use of the tomahawk and scalping-knife. This terrible tragedy spread consternation among the colonists, and impaired the faith of the Six Nations of Indians, until that time the faithful friends and allies of the Dutch and English.

A council of all the tribes was called at Onondaga to decide upon what course they should pursue. At that council appeared the French officers, e« grande tenue, with rich presents, which they lavishly distributed.

« EelmineJätka »