GEORGE SCRIBA must have stopped at the Van der Kemp home on the Esopus. There seems no other way that Van der Kemp could have become so interested in the Oneida Lake region and could have made such careful plans for his trip. When the time came, George Clinton encouraged the journey and provided letters of introduction to people along the route including Jonas Platt, who became one of Van der Kemp’s best friends. Van der Kemp planned to travel to Fort Stanwix (now Rome); there a guide was to take him by water through Oneida Lake and the Oswego River and back, allowing time for spying out the land.
Van der Kemp kept a careful diary, later sent to Adam Mappa after his unsuccessful venture in printing, in an effort to persuade this valued friend to settle nearby.
The trip probably began in mid-June and ended in mid-July. The account is included here in greatly shortened form.1
I had not rode a horse, except in 1788 from Alexandria to Mount Vernon, when I visited General Washington. Now it was a journey of nearly two hundred miles. But I was resolved; my good neighbor provided me with a saddle, and other accoutrements of a cavalier—I risked to take one of my own horses—and proceeded slowly on. About noon I had passed the Grooten Imbogt, about twenty miles from home, went on after dinner to Catskill, and took tea with Mr. Bogardus at the Landing, which is indeed a very agreeable spot. The increasing population of the western country gave birth to this little hamlet on the North [Hudson] river. Several merchants from New England and this State had established themselves; last year their number was augmented to twenty, and this year seventeen new buildings, houses and stores, were finished. The situation is indeed delightful on the banks of a large creek, and not far distant from the North river, very well adapted for trading with the western country. The inhabitants were chiefly respectable men, while the family of Mr. Bogardus peculiarly might have tempted you and me to fix our residence on the spot, could we have contemplated it, on our arrival from Europe, so it now appears.
Towards evening, I rode on to Cough Sagie [Coxsackie] and stopped at the house of John Bronk, persuaded after having travelled forty miles at the first onset, that I could accomplish my purpose. My supper was but indifferent—tea, bread and butter, with a bit of warmed mutton, but in full compensation of it, the mistress of the house was very civil. Next morning, I went to Albany, where I met with a cordial reception from Dr. Marcius [Mancius?], whose hospitality, frankness, and amiable character, leave you scarce time to do justice to his professional merits. Every instant the decision of the election of a new Governor was expected, and, as the city was pretty equally divided between the two illustrious candidates, Clinton and Jay, a painful anxiety was legible in every countenance. At 8 o’clock it was known with certainty that George Clinton was re-elected for the sixth time. In the morning the sound of guns proclaimed the Governor’s election to the neighborhood.
On Friday morning, I rode on to Schenectadi, where I spent a few hours with the Rev. Romeyn, one of the most learned and eminent divines of the Reformed Church in this State. He communicated to me many important observations with regard to the soil, the stupendously increasing population of the western country, with its vast increasing strength. He assured me that fifteen hundred families passed by his house during the winter of ’91, to various parts of the western lands.
I proceeded after dinner about twenty miles further; stopped a few moments at the ancient residence of Sir William [Johnson], now occupied by Mr. Jacob Cuyler, and remained at night on Trip’s Hill, at Mr. Putnam’s, six miles from Caughwaga. On Saturday morning I breakfasted at Simon Veeder’s Esq., rode on eight miles farther to Bankert’s Inn and arrived about noon at the mansion of the repectable widow of Col. Phil. Schuyler, in Palatine-town. There I met with a cordial reception: Mrs. Schuyler appeared most interested in the welfare of Mrs. v.d.K. and our John, who with us four years past had been entertained under her hospitable roof. I was again much pleased with her animated, intelligent conversation, and gathered more real information from a desultory discourse than I might have received from an elaborate discussion of a philosopher who had never seen the country. She informed me too of the best houses on the road.
After dinner I crossed the Mohawk three miles above Palatine-town, and did see Canajohari. After a ride of seven miles further, I tarried at a ci-devant Indian castle, now a very recommendable inn, kept by Mr. Hudzon, to drink a dish of superior good tea. It was my design to proceed to Herkimer but my good horse was scarce able to lift one foot before the other; consider further that this good beast, by often going and returning, to examine one or other object a little more carefully [,] by always pacing even on the roughest road, was thoroughly fatigued; that the sun was set; that I was ignorant of the road, and, as you would say, not much to be trusted where I knew it; and that, above this all, Capt. Bellinger, the landlord of a homely tavern, endeavored to persuade me that I ought to stay with him. And then reflecting that the cavalier longed for rest as much as his beast, you cannot be surprised that your friend yielded so soon to the urgent entreaties of that noble captain. My supper was not above mediocrity; my bed and sleep of the first-rate. The hope of repairing my loss of the evening by a good breakfast, made me stir early, so that I arrived at eight at Mr. Aldritz, in former days another Indian castle. The respectable appearance of the landlord and his lady, soon convinced me that my conjecture would not dwindle away in an airy vision. Good bread and butter, excellent tea, fresh eggs, with a dish of salmon trout, a sort of European sorrel, worthy to be presented to the best man in the State, was more than sufficient to satisfy a craving hunger. Now was I in Herkimer; crossed again the Mohawk; paced slowly through the German Flatts, a beautiful plain, whose rich fertility must strike even the inattentive eye; from the charming fields covered with all sorts of grain: here wheat, corn, potatoes; there oats, peas, barley; there again another variety of the same products, at intervals surrounded or separated with clover. These flatts, terminated from one side by the Mohawk, from the other by the rising hills, at whose bottom the farm houses and churches were constructed, maintain many thousand descendants of native Germans, who, searching a refuge from infatuated despotism, in this land of liberty, have chiefly preserved the manners, language and religion of their ancestors. The same is true with regard to their neighbors in German-town and Herkimer—all of German origin, somewhat tempered with British, Dutch and American blood.
Col. Staringh [Henry Staring] was the man by whom I intended to dine if it was obtainable. Although his honour was at the same time a Judge of the Common Pleas, thus high in civil and military grandeur, yet he kept a public house, and my imagination was highly inflamed when I glanced on his mansion and its appurtenances. The Colonel was gone to the meeting; his barn was the place of worship. I went thither; the assembled congregation was very numerous; our Lord’s Supper was celebrated with decency, and as it appears to me by many with fervent devotion. Four children were baptized by the Rev. Rosekrantz, of the German Flatts, who made this pastoral visit to direct these religious solemnities. After service the flock crowded promiscuously in the Colonel’s house and used sparingly some refreshments. The large majority gloried at the renewed election of George Clinton.
The presence of the Rev. Pastor; the solemnity of the sacred festival; the presence of the fathers of the baptized children, some of them related to the Colonel, procured me a good dinner.
At nine miles distance, near old Fort Schuyler, I crossed the Mohawk River for the last time; took my tea at Mr. John Post’s; reached Whitesborough about evening and stopped at the house of Judge [Hugh] White, the father of this flourishing settlement, to whom and Mr. Jonas Platt, his Ex. [Excellency] Geo. Clinton had favored me with letters of introduction. I met on the road to Whitesborough a group of Oneida Indians, some of them on horseback, others walking and jumping; the one with a bottle, another with a jug or small keg with rum; for the most part merrily jolly: some deeply soaked by the beverage, distilled from the cane. Their number increased in proportion as I approached nearer Whitesborough. There I saw about two hundred, of every age and of both sexes, around their fires near the road, eating, drinking, smoking, singing, laughing, all [of] them in perfect harmony together, though many a little before had tried their strength and agility upon one another.
The occasion of this unusual concourse was that they came to receive the corn from the State, which had been stipulated in one of the articles of the late treaty. But they soon changed this corn, certainly for a large part, by the merchants for money, which they changed again for chintzes, silk, handkerchiefs, linen, &c.
Judge White was commissioned to distribute among them, the stipulated grain. He is a man between fifty and sixty years of age, of a middle stature, corpulent, and of a comely appearance. He enjoys now that exquisite gratification of being the creator of his own fortune, and placing all his children in an independent situation. Judge White resided in Connecticut in the year 1785. He made a journey to the western part of this State; made a purchase of the land he now lives on; moved thither in 1786 with his five sons, built a log house and barn; went the next year for his wife and remaining children, although there was not at that time one single white man in the nine miles around him. In 1788 he constructed a saw and grist mill; possessed in the fourth year all which he wanted for his convenience, ease and comfort in abundance; built in the fifth year a convenient frame house and substantial barn, and is now encircled by a number of respectable families; amongst these, two of his married sons and Mr. Jonas Platt, a son of Judge Zephaniah Platt.
The society here is already pleasing; so is the situation of this little village; more adapted for the enjoyment of rural retirement, than luring in a commercial point of view. The houses are more built for convenience than for show; the roads are daily improving, of which you may form a partial opinion from the fact that while I was here, Mr. and Mrs. Livingston [parents of Mrs. Platt] came in their own carriage, in four days from Poughkeep to Whitesborough.
That I do not exaggerate to render you enamored with this charming country, one proof shall be sufficient. By the last census the number of souls in Whitestown, was 5,788—a stupendous number indeed within the small circle of five years. In Whitesborough itself there is scarce an acre for sale. Dr. Mosely paid for three acres, for a building spot, £50 per acre.
The soil is a fertile rich loam: from thirty to forty-five bushels Indian corn per acre is an ordinary crop; often it gives fifty, sixty, and more. The article of fish is scarce; firewood has already become an object of so much importance that it is saved and sold to advantage; and salt cannot be obtained below a dollar the bushel.
I crossed about two miles from Whitesborough the Oriskany Creek, where many of the Oneida Indians resided in former days. Several farms have already been taken up, and the woods resounded when I passed there, from the strokes of the hardy axe-men: one year more, and the one farm shall be joined to the other, as here on the Esopuskill. I had only advanced a few steps when my attention was fixed on a number of skulls, placed in a row, on a log near the road. I was informed by the workmen that this place was the fatal spot on which the murderous encounter happened between General Herkimer and his sturdy associates, and the Indians, when this brave and gallant soldier did fall with a number of his men.
On Monday about noon, I arrived at Fort Stanwix. The Baron [Frederick Augustus] de Zeng, industriously employed in laying out a kitchen garden, had already seen me, and gave me a cordial welcome. He then introduced me to Col. [William] Colbreath, a revolutionary soldier [who lived with De Zeng].
The Baron De Zeng, a German nobleman, descends from a noble family in Saxony, and arrived in America during the revolutionary war. He was married to a respectable lady in New York, and did now intend to begin a settlement in this vicinity. He had engaged to accompany me on this tour, and I expected, as I really experienced, that he not only should be an agreeable companion, but very useful to me in many respects.
The baron was so kind, to charge himself to purchase a grand canoe [dugout], engage two servants, and procure the required provisions for our voyage. As he had before rowed through this wilderness he knew best what was wanting to lessen the hardships of a similar enterprize. A well made tent with a good carpet stood foremost on the list, and his spouse took care that a sufficient quantity of bread and biscuit was prepared. While all this was brought in readiness, I had the satisfaction to explore the country; examine the woods with the contemplated slate [site?] for the canal, to join the Mohawk with the Wood creek, and convince myself of its practicability. But this is only the dwarf, fixing his eyes upward to the gigantic canal, yet in embryo. The soils differ little from that of Whitestown, except the summit of the highland, on which the fort is erected, generally not less fertile, often too rich for wheat, as the first crop. Elm, ash, beech, heavy oak and walnut are in the upper part: on the lower ground, chiefly beech, maple and birch. As no apparent obstruction is visible, the canal may be executed nearly in a straight line.
Scarce a day passed in which not two, sometimes three, bateaux arrived, whose destination was towards the Genesee lands, Onondago, Cadaraqui [at Ft. Frontenac], or other parts of the Western District. We met daily with groups of five or six men on horseback, in search for land. During the time I tarried here, a large bateau with furs, arrived from the West; two yoke of oxen carried it over the portage. This was the second cargo within one week. It may be conjectured from this single example what riches the waters of Oneida Lake may carry on to Fort Stanwix, if every obstruction shall be removed. Now it makes a fortune to individuals; then it shall become as productive to the Nation as a gold mine.
We walked on Saturday towards Woods creek; we saw our baggage stowed: stepped in the canoe and pushed off. [In three miles they passed the site of Fort Bull.] As we indulged ourselves from time to time, in angling, we hooked a few trout and several large chubs, without reflecting that the sun was setting; our lusty boys waded continually to drag our deeply loaded canoe over rifts and shoals.
Now we proceeded quickly and discovered after a few minutes a light in a small cottage. It was that of the widow Armstrong, on the corner of the Wood and Canada creek, seven miles from Fort Stanwix, the part of land where Roseveld’s [Nicholas Roosevelt] purchase begins, with which you and some of my best friends desire to become acquainted, and which, if I am not mistaken and disappointed in my wishes, may be once a goodly heritage, under God’s Almighty blessing, for us and our children.
A simple statement of courses is sufficient to lay open the water communication with all the circumjacent lands; by the Wood creek to the Mohawk eastward, and so on to the North [Hudson] river, through the Seneca river, southwest of the Oneida Lake to the Genesee lands, whose settlements are daily increasing; through the Onondago and Oswego rivers, in Lake Ontario, through the St. Lawrence and the North river in the Ocean.
Both Salmon rivers emptying in Lake Ontario, to the north of this tract of land and the Fish creek in Oneida Lake, are in the spring and fall, full of salmon. One Oneida Indian took with his spear, forty-five salmon in one hour. They are equal to the best which are caught in the rivers of the Rhine and Meuse. The eel of the Oneida Lake is equal to the best of the Holland market, and far surpasses every kind which I have ever tasted here, in size, in fatness, in tenderness of the fish.
Everywhere are salt springs, and but few miles from Oneida Lake in Onondago is a copious salt lake, encircled with salt springs, the domain of the people of the State of New York. A considerable quantity is already transported to Canada, and thousand American families make never use of any other. How the copiousness must be increased when rock salt too is manufactured and carried to the South and West of our immense continent.
This country, so abundant in water and fish, is, if possible, yet more profusely endowed by our bountiful maker with wood. Every kind of timber of the northern and eastern States, is here in the greatest plenty and perfection: butternut, walnut, white oak, sugar maple, chestnut, beech, black ash, pine, hemlock, the lime tree, white wood or canoes wood, and several other species.
It is true, my dear sir, a good soil, good water, and plenty of wood for fuel and timber are strong inducements to settle in a new country—more so, when the price of all this is enhanced by the prospect of a good market in the neighbourhood; but if thou art there alone without neighbours, if from the vicinity you obtain nothing even for ready cash, if, as is the situation of the largest number who transport their families in the woods—their all consists in an axe, a plow, a wheel, a frying pan, kettle, bed and pillow, with a scanty provision of flour, potatoes, and salt pork—then what? Then, my dear sir, something else besides is required not to suffer during the first season. It is true a little wheat is often saved [sowed?] in the fall, a small spot cleared to plant in the spring corn and potatoes, while they live in the hope, if their health is spared, to prepare the soil for sowing flax-seed; but something more yet is required to the maintenance of a numerous hungry family, and in this respect, too, Providence has in this district graciously provided even to satiety. Never did I see yet a country where all kind of fish was so abundant and good.
The salmon is generally salted and sold at £4. the barrel; cat fish at £4. and £4.10; the eel is smoked, and with the two preceding sorts, preserved for the winter provision; others are consumed fresh. Hundreds of gull eggs may be gathered on the islands. Ducks and geese visit annually the lakes and creeks in large flocks; the swan is but seldom seen in this vicinity—while bears and deer are roving in the neighbourhood of every cottage.
On Sunday morning we bid adieu to the good widow, who left nothing undone which was in her power to render her homely cottage comfortable to us. We left our canoe now and then to look at the land; it was low and flat near the borders of the creek, and had the appearance of being annually overflowed. At some distance the land became gradually more elevated, and was adorned with oak, beech, maple.
The approaching night compelled us to look out for a convenient spot for our encampment, in which we soon succeeded. Our tent was pitched, and a blazing fire prepared by the boys. We spread our carpet, and made our beds ready, waiting for our supper. Here thousands of muskitoes welcomed us in their abode, obtruded their company, and exhausted our patience by their treacherous caresses, in which they continued till we had encircled our tent with smoke.
We covered our faces with a veil before we went to sleep. This was the first time in my life I slept in the woods, and yet my sleep was sound, but short and not very refreshing, as I awoke fatigued, and was not at ease, till I drove the sleep from the eyes of all my companions, and had hurried them to the canoe to pursue our journey.
We did so, and had scarce proceeded a mile, when the Wood Creek, increasing imperceptibly in breadth, lost the appearance of a ditch, and appeared a handsome river. Now we hurried on, and encouraged our raw and unexpert hands to row on with alacrity, as we longed impatiently to see this vast expansion of water. Our wishes were ere long gratified. We stopped our course about nine o’clock, unloaded our canoe, pitched our tent, and brought firewood together, that we might have full leisure to contemplate this beautiful lake.
De Zeng left me with the canoe and one hand to take a short excursion on the Oneida creek, to the south side of the lake, to fetch some implements, left there the year before by one Peter Frey. While Major De Zeng continued his course in exploring the Canada creek, I took a walk along the eastern sandy shore of this charming lake, and examined its northern salient angles, of which the first was four, the next about nine miles distant, in this circuit from the mouth of Wood creek. Within a few moments I saw three canoes, one with Indians, among whom [was] Capt. Jacob Reed, and one bateau from the south and west, while two bateaux with four families, from the Fish creek, landed a little below our encampment. The soil is a barren sand; the trees near the shore dwarfish and of little value. At first, when I entered the woods, I met with a swampy ground, but further proceeding, a good loam, increasing in depth and richness as I went on.
The baron returned about twelve, with two most capital eels, presented him by an Oneida—Good Peter, who had been hired by him the last year to follow him on a similar expedition as that in which we now were engaged.
Having loitered here away the afternoon in examining shells and stones, and plants and shrubs, we pursued our course the next morning; then rowing, then using the setting poles along the shore, till we reached the point from which its northerly side may be calculated. From here the shore was generally covered with pebbles. A small creek, called by the Indians who were with us Little Fish creek, falls here in the lake.
We had now lost a great part of two days in fishing, without an adequate reward to our exertions, and might have suspected that the exuberant abundance of this lake in fish, of which we had heard so much boasting from white men as well as Indians, had been exaggerated, but we soon discovered the cause of our failure. The lake was now covered as with a white cloak of hundred thousands millions of insects which we call Haft in Holland, and which lay in some parts of the shore one and two inches deep.2
We were, a little after sunset, surprised at a number of fires in a semi-circular form on the lake. I numbered nine, others several more. These were made by the Oneida Indians spearing eel. They are usually two or three in a canoe, one steerman, one who spears in the bow, the third takes care of the fire, made from dry, easily flaming wood, in a hollow piece of bark, first covered with sand.
We proceeded on our course, and arrived, at no great distance, to another, but much smaller creek emptying its waters in a pretty bay [This became the site of Rotterdam, now Cleveland. Van der Kemp purchased land lying between this creek and Black Creek which flows into Bernhard’s Bay.]; here was the land to some extent towards the lake low, and could only be appropriated for pasture or hay land; but it gradually ascended about 20 feet, where it was covered with a deep, black, rich, fertile soil, mixed with a small portion of black sand, and covered with majestic oak, beech, butternut, walnut, ash and maple. Here the prospect was admirable indeed. Imagine that falling plain near the lake, cleared from trees and stumps, and covered with verdure, embellished with a dozen of cows, the lake in front, a wood to the south, while behind you the noblest fields invite you to admire the rich produce of the soil, equal to the best tilled in our country.
Major De Zeng walked slowly with his gun on shore,
With head upraised and look intent,
And eye and ear attentive bent,
while we rowed on; he gave us a signal; we pushed to the shore; he told us that he saw a bear on the next point; in an instant we left the canoe and dispatched our boys, well armed, in the woods, to cut off his retreat; De Zeng and I advanced in his front from the lake side; when within a pistol shot of this surly lord of the woods, he stood still, trotted on a few steps and received a shot from the woods which broke his left hind leg, another glanced his brawny side. De Zeng missed his aim, and while I stepped forward with the cocked gun, De Zeng, throwing his gun aside, sprung impetuously forward with the tomahawk in his hand, attacked him in front and knocked him on the head twice; bruin lifted up his paw, twice he opened his mouth, at last staggring he falls, in blood and foam expires; we dragged him with difficulty towards the canoe, as he was indeed of a monstrous size, lifted him in it, and returned by land to the little creek, while our men rowed towards the same spot. Here we resolved to make our encampment for that night; in the morning it proved to be the most delightful spot which we had yet seen. If you never tasted it, you might have declined to share in our breakfast. Stewed slices of surly bruin, was the principal dish.
We entered once more our canoe; discovered two bateaux steering towards the south, and arrived about noon at the Black creek, the largest at this side of the lake, after the Fish Creek or Oneida river; here we dined on an excellent rice soup, from one of Brown’s gammons [bacon ends], which we had saved. Here was a broad piece of fore-land, watered by this creek, and about a hundred rods further on another creek, sufficient to turn a wheel, joined it. The upland was excessive steep, high and barren; the soil, fine yellow sand; the trees, fir, hemlock, pine, and a few oak. At some distance the land gradually descended, the soil became richer and the timber was improving; and again the same rich black soil, not subject of being so soon exhausted or baked in intensive hot weather, as the Whites-town loam.
We continued our course after dinner along the shore, and hoped that we might reach the Fisher’s bay. It was late before we reflected upon it, and a rising thunder storm urged us to take quickly hold of all our oars. I ought to have said pagays, as we were in a canoe. We did run, by our hurrying too fast, and through the inattention of our man at the helm, with our canoe on a hugh stone; at length we got again afloat, and arrived safe in the creek at Mr. Bruce’s, in former days a Connecticut merchant, now an independent inhabitant of the Oneida Lake, maintaining himself by the chase and fishery, and what he earned from a small potatoe spot. He fetched directly upon our arrival, a fine catfish, from a reservoir, constructed from saplings and twigs, so well twisted that no escape was possible.
This catfish weighed ten pounds; we obtained afterwards one of twenty-four pounds. When Bruce had prepared him, he showed us a handful fat, as yellow as gold. It was indeed a delicious repast for our supper. Roasted, as this was, and no cook could have done it better, or boiled or stewed, as we did eat after a while.
In the morning we made an excursion in the country, took a straight northerly course, and returned through the west and south at the other side to our encampment. The fore-land near the lake, at the east side of the creek, appeared but indifferent to the eye, now somewhat used to contemplate first-rate soil, and the timber stood in the same relation. At the distance of about one-fourth of a mile from the lake, the ground rises gradually and continues to do so, if you proceed another quarter of a mile. Then the soil increases in fertility from step to step, and in the same proportion in depth.
We crossed the creek a little above a beaver dam, and found the same excellent soil at the west side, with the same gradation, and in the same proportion as that which we had explored on the east, till we arrived again at the plain, covered with fir and pine.
This is a barren plain, De Zeng, so it seems, but it has good water, it has good building spots, and by manuring and good husbandry, will make good gardens. It is barren indeed, De Zeng, although it may be meliorated, but you do not reflect on the advantages of that creek; art thou not convinced by what thou hast seen, that with small exertions to improve it, full laden bateaux may go in and out, may do it actually now? Did your eye not discover the mill seats on this creek?
We left Bruce’s creek on Friday evening about six; the sky was serene and delightful; a soft breeze curled the waves and fringed them with white, while the sun sinking towards the west beautified the whole scenery. I did not witness such a grand or majestic sight since I crossed the Atlantic. It must be seen before it can be fully appraised, and then it must be a brute whose bosom does not glow with an ardent love towards his Creator, and adores His goodness and wisdom so majestically displayed in every part of the Universe. In proportion that we penetrated deeper in the lake, the beauty of this diversified prospect was more and more enhanced, the islands, the shores, the woods, the mountains obtruding themselves to our sight, seemed to vie with [each] other for the preference.
We landed half after seven at the largest and most westerly island, towed the canoe on shore, and walked by an Indian path in the woods.
This island might in ancient days have been the happy seat of a goddess, in the middle age that of a magician, or a fairy’s residence in the times of chivalry. Proceeding on one after another through the stately trees, through which we perceived yet the last glances of the setting sun, we were at once, after a few rods, surprised with an enchanting view. We did see here a luxuriant soil in its virgin bloom; we did see industry crowned with blessing, we did see here what great things a frail man can perform if he is willing. It seemed a paradise which happiness had chosen for her residence. Our path did lead us to the circumference of a cleared circle, surrounded with lime trees; at both sides of the path was planted Indian corn, already grown from four to five feet, while a few plants towards the middle of this patch were six feet long, and this in the middle of June. A small cottage of a few feet square stood nearly in the centre of this spot. It had a bark covering, and to the left of it a similar one, three-fourths uncovered and appropriated for a kitchen. Here was the residence of Mr. and Madame de[s] Wattines, with their three children.
They lived there without servants, without neighbours, without a cow; they lived, as it were, separated from the world. Des Wattines sallied forward and gave us a cordial welcome in his desmenes. The well-educated man was easily recognized through [in spite of!] his sloven dress. Ragged as he appeared, without a coat or hat, his manners were those of a gentleman; his address that of one who had seen the higher circles of civilized life. A female, from whose remaining beauties might be conjectured how many had been tarnished by adversity, was sitting in the entrance of this cot. She was dressed in white, in a short gown and petticoat, garnished with the same stuff; her chestnut brown hair flung back in ringlets over her shoulders, her eyes fixed on her darling Camille, a native of this isle, at her breast; while two children, standing at each side of her, play’d in her lap. Her appearance was amiable indeed. Esteem for the man filled our bosom, and when you considered how indefatigably he must have exerted himself; what sacrifices he must have made, what hardships endured, to render her situation comfortable, and rear roses for her on this island, so deep in the western wilderness then, notwithstanding all the foibles which a fastidious cool observer might discover at his fireside, he becomes an object of admiration. I, at least, gazed at him in wonder. Des Wattines introduced us to his spouse. She received us with that easy politeness which well-educated people seldom lose entirely, and urged, with so much grace, to sit down that we could not refuse it without incivility. This couple was now in the second year on this island, and all the improvements which we had seen were the work of Des Wattines’ hands exclusively.
Few trunks, few chairs, an oval table, two neat beds, was the principal furniture; a double barreled gun, a pretty collection of books, chiefly modern literature, in the French language, the chief ornaments of the cottage.
At our return to our encampment [on the island], our tent was pitched, the fire blazing, our boys snoring, and we too fell soon asleep. I awoke with daylight, and made the circuit of this fortunate island. When returned to the place of our landing, I crossed the corn plantation and went on, to contemplate more carefully what might have escaped my sight the preceding evening.
Des Wattines had laid out behind the cottage a pretty garden, divided by a walk in the middle. The two foremost beds, and rabats [borders] against the house, were covered with a variety of flowers; sweet williams, lady slippers, with a few decaying hyacinths. At the right hand were bush beans, large kidney beans, at poles, cabbage, turnips, peas, salade, with that strong scented herbage which we call keovel; at the left, water-melons, cantelopes, cucumbers, persil [parsley], string peas, with a few of the winter provisions, all in great forwardness, with few or no weeds among them; behind the garden a small nursery of apple trees, which was closed with a patch of luxuriant potatoes, and these again were joined both sides by wheat, describing a semi-circle around it.
All this was the workmanship of Des Wattines’ industry; without any assistance, not even of a plow or harrow, having no other tools but an axe and an hoe. It was true it was all in miniature, but it required, nevertheless, an indefatigable industry to be able to accomplish all this to such a degree of perfection. When I approached the cottage Des Wattines was yet employed in dragging pretty heavy wood for fuel towards it, which he chopt and split in a short time; and in less yet the fire was blazing, when he came with a catfish of sixteen pounds for our breakfast. While he was busily engaged in its preparations, Madame appeared, brought him a handful persil, and dressed the table. The tablecloth was of neat damask, a few silver spoons and forks, the plates and dishes cream coloured, remnants yet of their former affluence; while the contentment legible in her eyes, spread a fresh glow over her countenance, and made a deep impression on our hearts, and whetted our already keen appetite. De Zeng was meanwhile arrived, and complimented Madame with his usual politeness. Salade, roasted and stewed fish, well baked, warm bread of Indian corn, with good Hyzan tea, which she accepted from us with kindness, soon filled the table. I was seldom better regaled. The fish was delicious; the sprightly conversation gave a fresh relish to every mouthful we tasted; and we might have desired to be inhabitants of that enchanted spot, had it been in our power to withdraw our attention from the hardships to which they were exposed, and banish the idea that they seldom could obtain anything else but fish.
Des Wattines inquired in the boundaries of our journey, “to Lake Ontario,” “and in what manner?” “Well with our canoe,” was the reply. He sprung from his chair and stared us fully in the face with a “Par Dieu! with your canoe! to Lake Ontario! nanny! prenez le bateaux, take it Major, it is at your service, Prenez le.” We did not hesitate long to accept his offer. We soon had our baggage transported in it, left our canoe behind at the island, with our frying pan, through the slothfulness of our hands. We started thus on Saturday morning about ten. There are appearances [along the shore here], and very strong indeed, of rock iron. The land had again a very promising aspect at some distance from the shore, and shall, I doubt not, be transformed, within a few years, in productive farms. We arrived at Fort Brewerton about noon, situated at the northwestern corner of the lake. Here is a location of about four hundred acres, obtained by Mr. Kaats during the late British war. It was now inhabited by two families, viz, that of one Captain Bingham, and one Mr. Simonds, the latter from Caughnawagha. They had rented it at £20 a year, and desired to make a purchase of it, but Mr. Kaats, acquainted with its value, had constantly declined their offers.
I was highly gratified with excellent bread and butter, feasted on milk for my beverage, and purchased two pints of it, which we carried to our bateau. The soil is clay, of which a large quantity of brick was made; somewhat further a sandy loam was covered with stately trees, oak, then beech, ash and maple.
We arrived in the Onondago river, which, even as the Fish creek, has generally very steep banks, more so, however, at the west side. To the west, joining Kaats’ location, is an excellent tract of land, the property of Mr. L’Home Dieu; to the south the military lands, chiefly a valuable fruitful soil. A sudden shower compelled us to land about three miles below Fort Brewerton, where we encamped that night, being resolved, if the rain might abate, to take a view of the land.
I had ventured, rather imprudently, perhaps, a few miles in the woods; the beauty of the spot had lured me deeper and deeper, till at last I knew not from where I came or whither I went; the sun being set, I had lost this unerring guide; my only refuge was now my pocket compass, by which I again discovered the course which I had to steer towards the river. This, nevertheless, would have brought me two miles below my encampment, had not De Zeng, apprehensive of this issue, sent out the boys to hunt the straggler.
Next day, about three in the afternoon, we reached Three River Point, eighteen miles from Fort Brewerton; here join the Onondago and Seneca rivers, that of Oswego flowing to Lake Ontario in [from] a southwesterly direction. One Barker lived at the east side of this point, whose chief employment was to conduct the bateaux over the falls in Oswego river.
We hired Barker at five shillings a day, to bring us over the fall, and stay with us till our return. We started from the point at four. We distinguished at a considerable distance the grumbling noise of the water on the first and second rift. Near the first is a remarkable good mill seat; here were the Onondagos collected in large numbers; some fishing, some smoking in their huts, others from time to time arriving and passing us in their bark canoes, with much art constructed, so light and easily manageable, that a squaw with her little daughter gained on us, and left us soon behind her by her velocity. We concluded to encamp about ten miles from Three Rivers Point, opposite to a handsome island in the Oswego river. The pickerel often weigh here thirty pounds, pike is of a similar size; we took a catfish of four span and a half; perch too, of which we obtained a few, is here in abundance.
At a short distance from the river is a good fertile soil; further, of a rich clay; the timber pretty similar to that which we had seen before. We started again pretty early on Monday morning, and arrived at the falls, twelve miles from the point. This indeed was again a very interesting sight. At the south side is a farm of three hundred acres, of one Mr. Valekenburg, who intends to build him this year a saw and grist mill. It is a noble spot for constructions of this kind.
Here we unloaded our bateau; dragged it about a hundred rods over the carrying place, and there, below the falls committed her again to its proper element. In [a] few moments our baggage was again on board and we in the bateau. Here Barker did give us a proof of his dexterity and alertness; with a rapidity which dimmed the sight, with an incredible swiftness, we passed over stones, between rocks and islands, as an arrow on the wing and lost the falls out of our sight and hearing. At twelve we arrived at Oswego, yet secured by a British garrison, notwithstanding it ought to have been surrendered many years before to our government in conformity to the treaty of peace.
The commanding officer [of the fort], a Rhode Island man by birth, Captain Wickham, treated us with a great deal of politeness, and regretted to be unable to offer us refreshments. He enquired carelessly in the object of our expedition, and made us an offer of his aid whenever he might be of any service to us; and he did so effectually; it was through his management that the British Interpreter, thoroughly acquainted with Lake Ontario and its shores, agreed to conduct us to the Salmon creek.
This Mr. Price spent a part of his youth with Onondago Indians. He was in the beginning discreet enough and civil through the whole of this excursion, but his society otherwise, far from indifferent, lost a great part of its worth by his incessant swearing; it was, indeed, [as] if he deemed it an accomplishment.
This Mr. Price was our Palinurus [the pilot of Aeneas] as soon as we had entered our bateau, which was about four in the afternoon; our raw hands rowed; Price was at the helm. We did sit on the middle bench; ere long we reached deep water. We arrived, with a fresh breeze at Four Miles Point, hoisted now our sail, passed it and obtained then a view of a range of perpendicular rocks, which rendered a landing impossible and dangerous to approach them nearer. Bernhard, one of our hands, boasted on his seamanship and experience. He doubted not, as he might bring a vessel in safety in the harbour; he had seen the narrows between Long Island and Staten Island. Price swore that he was tired with steering, and called, with another curse our pilot to take care of the helm. Now he placed himself between us and smoked his pipe. Our new steersman pointed every time towards shore, which he as often was compelled by a general command to steer more towards the middle, as we were now between the tremendous rocks at Four and Nine Miles Point. The wind suddenly increased, our pilot turned again towards the shore, and was anew for a moment by Price’s tremendous curses, overawed to steer once more to deep water. But his increasing fear—not longer within his control—a desultory animated conversation between De Zeng, Price and myself, permitting him to follow the bias of his alarming impulse and a pretty rough western wind carried us within a few moments at a distance of a few rods only, towards those horrible perpendicular rocks, of which some seemed suspended over the watery surface. At once a loud pityful cry, “hold towards shore,” struck our ears. Price did tear the oar from Barker’s hand, commanded to lower the sail and bring out the oars, but all in vain. The pilot wept and cry’d, “hold towards shore, Mr. Price, good Mr. Price! push on shore—I pray God Almighty—dear Mr. Price, set on shore!” Price’s reply was, “God damn you rascal! down the sail, out the oar, obey or sink!” The surge rose higher and higher; our united strength and weight, viz: De Zeng’s and mine, were scarce sufficient to prevent the bateau turning upside down. At last the sail was struck, the oars out, and we were only in part exposed to the first shock, while Price, who remained calm and alert, succeeded in forcing the prow into the waves, and bringing us again in safety in deep water. When the danger was past the terror of our crew abated, and I praised in my soul the Almighty, as I do at this instant, for our hair-breadth escape.
Price remained now at the helm, and we proceeded on our course with a steady breeze, very pleasantly, except that De Zeng and I were thoroughly soaked over the right side from top to toe. We entered, notwithstanding the foaming breakers, a creek of the middle size, three miles to the south of the Little Salmon creek, towed our bateau in an inlet, and chose the heights for our encampment. Before our tent was pitched, and our fire in full blaze, Price and Barker returned with a large eel and huge catfish, which were more than sufficient for our supper.
We arrived on Tuesday at the Little Salmon creek; there was fish in the greatest abundance. The salmon collects here and in the Big Salmon creek, in nearly incredible numbers, during the fall and spring. The wind was too vehement on Wednesday to proceed on our journey with such an ignorant and cowardly crew; even the daring Price advised us not to run the risk; but he could not on any account be persuaded to remain longer with us. He grasped his gun, left his great coat with us, and flew out of sight in the woods. We heard the report of a gun, another, and there was Price returned; he threw a couple of partridges at our feet, and departed finally.
The lake became more and more tempestuous; the wind blew a gale, and our Typheus had left us. The violence of the tempest increased with the falling night, and did not abate till the morning, when we compelled our pilot and crew to enter once more in the bateau.
When we perceived that Barker brought us nearly in the same situation as before, we listened to prudent advice and considered it our duty to land in the same creek which we had entered on Monday. We took here, after we had rowed up this creek for two miles, a large quantity of trout of various sizes—to regale us at dinner.
Nothing, my dear sir, resembles nearer the small rivulets and canals in South Holland than these creeks, as far as these are navigable. You see the same water plants and flowers—in some parts the conserva,3 covering a part of the surface—the same insects, the same serpentine windings. We took a walk after dinner a few miles in the country where we found a rich soil, and here and there a mill seat. We returned about six o’clock to our encampment, but our pilot and one of our hands were unwilling to embark that evening; to-morrow morning—this night they would start—the lake was yet too high; at last, however, having prevailed on one of our lads, we got them all, willing, unwilling in the boat. We placed him whose good will I had secured at the helm; the pilot with his mate in mutiny at the oars, and pushed forward deep enough in the lake, while De Zeng and I took a pagay in the hand to prosper our course.
A fresh westerly breeze with the falling evening induced us to look out for a landing spot, in which we sooner and better succeeded than we could have expected. We hauled our bateau on dry land so that we might not lose her during the night. At six o’clock [the next morning] we rowed already with all our might, and arrived about ten at the fort, to our great satisfaction and joy. We left the fort at 1 o’clock, and made our encampment that night three miles from the falls, after having walked one mile to lessen the freight of the bateau.
Our breakfast was in readiness at an early hour, neither did we tarry long; all hands to the bateau! speed, boys! speed! and the command was promptly executed. Our boat seemed to acquire a new vigor, either that he was satisfied fully with the length of this trip, or that he actually longed for his home. We arrived at Three River Point about seven, discharged Mr. Barker, and pitched our tent in the vicinity of his house, crowded with travellers from several bateaux and canoes.
Need I tell you, my dear sir, that Fort Brewerton, which we reached at four in the afternoon was to us a delightful sight. Captain Bingham was from home on the salmon fishery, and Captain Simonds, with the women, on a visit to the Island. His eldest daughter, nevertheless, a smart young girl, prepared us a good supper, a bass of two pound, a dish with stewed eel, with fresh bread and butter. Our breakfast was congenial, having secured two capital eels, with a pot of milk and rice; we hurried to the Island and complimented Mr. and Madame des Wattines, on Monday morning between nine and ten. We were again congratulated with a hearty welcome, and a new zest was added to our gratification, when Des Wattines proposed to conduct us to the Fish creek, or Oneida river, as he was compelled to go to the Oneidas for Indian corn. His garden was yet more pleasant, its value unquestionably had increased. Head lettuce, parsley (porcelain) string peas, and kidney beans, were in full perfection.
[At the departure the next morning] Madame des Wattines, with her Camille to her bosom, her eldest boy between her, and his sister at her side, motionless, staring at us, with an expressive countenance, with features portraying what her soul so keenly seemed to feel in that distressing moment of separation, adieu, Des Wattines! was all which we could distinguish. There stood that lonely, deserted fair one! not deserted as Ariadne, but nevertheless left alone with three helpless children—alone! on an island on Oneida Lake.
We took our dinner by Bruce, where our milk and rice, which we purchased at Fort Brewerton, was to all a palatable dish; then we returned towards evening to the mouth of the Fish creek or Oneida river, from which we started for our expedition. Des Wattines prepared our soupé of eel and catfish, while we superintended the pitching of our tent and making a good fire.
Here we were gratified with a visit [from] the first Judge [John] Lansing and Col. [Morgan] Lewis, the Attorney General of the State, and Major Farley, who all went to attend the circuit. We separated after conversation; they doomed to remain there till it pleased the westerly breeze to abate; Des Wattines parting from us in his bateau to the Oneida creek, and we proceeding with our canoe to the Fish creek or Oneida river. Here we met with one of our old acquaintance, Mr. Abraham Lansing, who, with one Mr. Fonda, went to Niagara. We stopt at the mouth of Wood creek. I concluded, while De Zeng with one of our lads was preparing our dinner, to take with the other a view of the Fish creek.
We rowed up the creek about three miles, and then landed on the side between the Fish and Wood creeks; here we met first with a broad girdle of fertile flat land, nearly east by west; then a long tract of pine chiefly, then beech, maple and oak. I ordered the boy to proceed higher up, and took a similar course landward in, and examined the soil from time to time, which I found generally fertile, although of a less favorable aspect towards the lake and richer again in proportion, that I took a northwestern course. I reached my canoe near the mouth of the Wood creek, entered it and found, after an absence of three hours, the pease porridge ready. We remained that evening two miles at this side of the Oak Orchard, where we breakfasted, and met about one mile from it, Mess. [Gerrit] Boon and [John] Lincklaen, who, assisted by Mr. Morris, a land surveyor, proceeded on a similar excursion. It was 2 o’clock before we arrived at the Widow Armstrong’s cottage.
Amos Fuller, who resided now with his family at the widow’s till he should be successful, as he said, in purchasing a farm in this neighbourhood, informed us, that two—past three Massachusetts men, amongst whom one of his brothers, had taken an accurate view of the tract from this point between the Canada creek, then westward between the Wood and Fish creeks, and considered it upon the whole so valuable that they had offered to purchase a whole township, to pay a £1,000 by the deed of the land, and the residue within a year, obliging themselves further to settle it before April, 1794, with thirty-five families.
Fuller tacked his old horse to our canoe, and dragged it to Fort Bull; here I strode on towards Fort Stanwix, where the baron, after a little while, arrived. The canoe arrived next morning. We dined, in part, on the new potatoes of Des Wattines, the welcome cup flowed over and I sincerely thanked the baron for his hospitable reception, for his manifold services and entertaining society, during a journey which required such a good companion to smooth its roughness. His lady was by her attentions entitled to the same civilities. We took a cordial farewell; I stept on my horse, which was neat and plumb, rode to Whitesborough, visited Mr. Platt; and then made a call to the good hearted Hugh White, asked for their commands and slept that night at old Fort Schuyler, by Mr. Hansje [John] Post. I was again on horseback early in the morning on Friday, and crossed the river. My oiled silk surtout coat defended me from the rain, which continued without interruption from five till eight. I had missed the road near German Flatts, but met good people, who with kindness convinced me that I was on a bye-path. I crossed again the Mohawk, took breakfast at Mr. Aldritz’s, visited the Rev. Rosekrantz, and arrived at Capt. Billinger’s, where I obtained for my dinner good chicken broth. I stept at four on my horse and associated to another traveller, passed Canajohari, baited our horses by Hudson, crossed the Mohawk for the last time, tarried about an hour at the widow Schuyler’s, and slept that night nine miles farther at Bankert’s inn, much fatigued and thoroughly wet by a copious perspiration.
The sight of several fields, from which they were reaping the rye, of others where the sheaves stood in array, made me double my speed. I breakfasted at Putnam’s on Trip’s hill, staid over noon at Mabee’s, six miles from Schenectadi, without tasting a morsel, providing quietly for my beast, as the landlady declined the trouble to prepare a roasted chicken for my dinner. I might have got some pork. I enjoyed the satisfaction to find the Rev. Romeyn with his lady and family in a perfect health. A good dish of tea, with the delightful society of that respectable clergyman, revived my spirits, so that I passed two agreeable hours with them. I rode the same evening yet five miles farther, and was before eight next morning under the hospitable roof of my worthy friend, Dr. Mancius.
The Rev. de Ronde, a clergyman of four score years, who expatriated from one of the Land Provinces, and settled in this State, many years past, was to officiate in the Dutch Church. I was tempted to be one of his hearers. The good old father, I believe, did as well as he could. I retreated after dinner, in silence, from the city with the fear of the constable, ignorant that I did attend Divine worship in the morning, continually before my eyes, slept at Cosachie, and rode early on Monday morning through an incessant rain, to Mr. Sax, in the Imbogt.* My breakfast was soon in readiness, and I could not deny him the satisfaction, to give him the outlines of my excursion. From here I continued my route to Capt. Hendrick Schoonmaker, where I took a dish of tea, till a heavy thunder shower shall have passed. My patience was exhausted at length, as the day was far gone, and submitted to ride nine miles further, through a violent rain, before I could reach my dwelling. But not one single drop made any impression, except on my hat, face and hands, thanks to my silk oiled coat.
Joy was legible in every countenance; my heart was glad and thankful when I did see me so cordially received, when I felt myself embraced with so much tenderness by all who were so dear to me.
My dear John alone suffered, under an intermittent fever, but that unwelcome visitor left us ere long, so that everything is again in its old train; the children at school, father in the field, mother unwearied, attentive to her many domestic concerns; all is bustle; ten loads of hay, eleven of rye, and fourteen of wheat are secured; the remainder mowed and reaped in the field, so that I must take hold of a few moments early in the morning and late at evening.
My companion, more sanguine in his projects and more ardent in their pursuit, had a much higher conception of this tract than your friend; to him it was superior, far exceeding all that he had seen, in situation, in luxuriant fertility, in natural riches. No doubt it was gifted with it; it might by an active industry, be transformed in an Eden! The soil, in my opinion, is even less rich than that in Whitestown and at the Oriskany creek, but its cultivation shall be easier, it shall not bake, it shall not be hardened in the same manner in a dry season.
I visited and examined this tract with the view to fix there my permanent residence, and obtain a valuable possession for my children and your family. I did not shrink at meeting in face some hardships, but visited it and endeavoured to examine it from creek to creek, not only near the water side, but often several miles in the interior, to obtain a sufficiently correct knowledge of its situation, of its real and relative value; and in this mind I do not hesitate to make you this frank and honest confession, that I have not yet encountered in this State an equal extensive tract of land on which I should prefer to end my course, if joined by a few respectable families, in the vicinity of a tolerable settlement, of which, if my wealth was equal to its acquisition, I should, in preference to all which I have yet seen, desire to secure its possession.
Van der Kemp begged Adam Mappa to join him in the venture toward which his own mind was firmly set. Perhaps Mappa would have accepted the suggestion had he not received an offer to become assistant to Gerrit Boon with the Holland Land Company at Oldenbarneveld, a position which he filled with great success.
Van der Kemp was determined to found an estate in the Oneida wilderness, with its richer soil and more extensive lands than he now owned at Esopus Creek. His conclusion: “My determination may be modified, it cannot be shaken.”
* Travel on the Sabbath was forbidden unless the traveler had attended church services on Sunday morning. Van der Kemp was afraid the constable would make him return to town to verify his statement that he had indeed attended divine worship before he set forth. Therefore he says he traveled “with the fear of the constable … continually before my eyes.”