IN 1797, the settlement with the impressive name of Oldenbarneveld had little more than its name. This had been taken from a town in the Netherlands named for a spirited liberal, John of Oldenbarneveld, who had been executed for his political nonconformity.
The village in the Oneida woods was off the most logical route north from Fort Stanwix to the Black River Valley and Lake Ontario. The West Canada Creek route from the German Flatts region toward the lake was only a vague possibility. The location of the village at the junction of Cincinnati and Steuben Creeks had the advantages of countless other mill sites. The land in the vicinity was well drained and much of it lay in gentle slopes suited for agriculture. The soil was somewhat rocky but rich enough to support general farming. Most budding settlements in the Adirondack foothills had the similar disadvantage of being off the main trade routes.
The location of the Holland Land Company office in Oldenbarneveld was a major advantage in the competition to attract good settlers. Gerrit Boon, the company agent in this part of New York, took a special interest in the growth of the village. With the assistance of LeRoy, Bayard, Mc-Evers and Busti, he purchased in trust for the Holland Land Company 46,057 acres of Outhoud’s Patent, 6,026 acres of Steuben’s Patent, 1,200 acres of Machin’s Patent and 23,609 acres of the Servis Patent, the latter tract including the site of Oldenbarneveld.1 In 1793 Boon blazed a trail north from Old Fort Schuyler to Cincinnati Creek. Who accompanied him is uncertain but either shortly before or shortly after this time, John Garret and his sons, Cheney and Peter, bought land near Nine Mile Creek on the trail that Boon blazed.
Three Garret boys, Cheney, Peter and Samuel, had come from Connecticut to Old Fort Schuyler, perhaps as early as 1791.2 The following story of their arrival, passed down by Cheney’s grandson, is true in spirit, if not in detail:
In the spring of 1792, a man standing on the bridge over the Mohawk River at Fort Schuyler … was looking at a boat down the stream, which was being propelled or polled up the stream against the current and as it came nearer, he discovered four young men and some boxes or chests on the boat. He hailed the party with … , “Have you any carpenters in your party?” The reply came, “Yes, we have four.” The man again hailed, “I want to talk with you, do not engage until I have a talk. I want to hire you.” On reaching the shore, the man on the bridge was on hand, and said, “My name is Thomas Hicks, I’m looking for carpenters to work some 14 miles from here, at a place called “Olden Barneveldt” for Mr. Boon, and you will be well paid in yellow coin if you suit him.”3
The three Garrets and William Palmer agreed to work with Hicks, but apparently first built some houses in Old Fort Schuyler and went to Boon’s holdings the following year.
Boon pitched a tent on the site for his village. As soon as the Garrets and Hicks arrived work was begun on his house, on the location where Adam Mappa later completed the beautiful Mappa Hall. Other settlers built houses on the site and the community soon longed for a grist mill. The nearest mill was at Whitesboro, a walk of some eighteen miles, never an easy journey over a crude trail, but particularly hard when the traveler carried a sack of corn or flour on his back. Boon built a dam and mill on Cincinnati Creek below the village and placed in the gable of the building a stone bearing the date 1798 and the word “Valonia,” the acorn cup for the hopes of the village.4 Soon muskrats tunneled the earthen dam, making the mill short of water. Shortly afterward a flood severely damaged the mill. It was abandoned, apparently without ever operating. Some time later, the Holland Land Company built both a grist mill and saw mill at a better point on the creek. Shortly after their construction, the mills were sold to Peter Schuyler for operation.
In 1795 Adam Mappa came from New York to be Boon’s assistant. In order to get him started Boon advanced Mappa $6,500 from company funds for his buildings. Boon was determined to attract and assist industrious settlers, as a few good people attracted more, and company land prices could be raised. The village had to have a mill and a store, a business leader and a doctor. Boon got them. He tried, though without success, to establish the cooperative production of maple syrup as an industry for the area. Boon probably welcomed Van der Kemp to his growing community as a respected judge, industrious farmer, and reknowned scholar.
Van der Kemp acquired a cottage near Mappa’s big house, borrowing $800 from the Holland Land Company to finance the purchase. Since Van der Kemp did not sell his Oneida Lake lands immediately, the loan was secure. Though the practice of loaning company funds to settlers was common, Boon was later required to make good several of these loans. The Van der Kemps paid.5
The Van der Kemps moved their fine furniture and simpler possessions into the one and one-half story cottage. They brought some of their domestic animals but probably left more with the tenant at Kempwick. Francis placed his beloved books, almost like family gods, in the new home, placed the sword and pistols of his revolutionary days in the bedroom and hung up the sword acquired by one of his ancestors from Baron de Haersolte, a factional leader of Overyssel.6
Engelbartha was more contented in town. Margaret Beekman Livingston wrote, “It gave me great pleasure to hear that my cousin had again a good and pleasant home …”7
Dutch friends and neighbors in Oldenbarneveld soon learned that Van der Kemp’s wit matched his learning. Knowing that the people of his native Kampen were accused of droll stupidity, his townsmen now took advantage of the absent-minded scholar, and Francis became a good-natured target for their humor. In good fun the people who loved and respected him told how he planted beans upside down, transported a wooden barn frame hundreds of miles into a region of fine trees, and, forgetting where he had hired a horse and buggy, drove around the streets of Philadelphia asking people if they recognized the horse.8
The Van der Kemps were hardly settled before public service called Francis. On March 24 the state legislature passed an enabling act for the organization of a new town of Trenton, the first meeting to be held in the home of Thomas Hicks.9 Van der Kemp as justice of the peace, presided at the meeting on April 4, 1797. Adam Mappa was elected first supervisor and all other town offices were filled, including Thomas Hicks and Cheney Garret as assessors, Peter Garret as commissioner of the poor and Gerrit Boon as a fence viewer. Van der Kemp himself was chosen to be overseer of the most important highway, the road to Old Fort Schuyler.
Records of the town of Trenton in succeeding years reveal the efforts of a frontier community in trying to become civilized. Roads were a great concern, particularly those leading to Old Fort Schuyler, the Black River and the Military Road to Johnstown. The town financed several bridges for the Utica Turnpike Road Company in 1808 by selling stock. The fencing in of hogs, sheep and rams was required. Cattle, though not restricted, had to have a brand or ear mark. The state bounty on wolves ($10) was supplemented in the town by $5, later raised to $10 and $15 extra, but rescinded altogether in 1820. Van der Kemp may have presided at town meetings in the first years. He received the ballots for election of officers through 1803.10
Van der Kemp was appointed federal surveyor of revenue for the year starting October 15, 1799. His duties were the collection of tariffs on imports from Canada. In the next decade and a half Van der Kemp served from time to time as assistant justice and justice of the peace, as master in chancery, and as fence viewer. The records show his notarization of deeds and other legal papers and there is a copy of the oath of office which he took.
I, Francis Adraen van der Kemp appointed to the Office of a Master in Chancery do solemnly Sincerely and Truely affirm [“promise and swear” were marked through, with the “affirm” phrase substituted], that I will in all things to the best of my knowledge and ability faithfully perform the trust reposed in me.
Two other affirmations follow, all signed by Van der Kemp:
I, Francis Adraen van der Kemp appointed to the office of a Master in Chancery do solemnly, sincerely and truely affirm that I renounce and abjure all allegiance and subjection to all and every foreign King, Prince, Potentate and State in all matters Ecclesiastical and civil and that I will bear faith and true allegiance to the State of New York as a free and Independent State.
I, Francis Adraen Vanderkemp Solemnly Sincerely and truely declare and affirm, that I will support the Constitution of the United States—11
In a new community fence viewers were important. The law required a certain type of fence if the land was in use. Fence viewers settled disputes about construction, upkeep, and effectiveness of fences and other questions not requiring court action.
The master in chancery drew up legal papers both during and between sessions of the court of chancery. He made initial reports on cases of lunacy and guardianship, certified testimony in cases of adultery, and performed a number of other legal duties, all with fees ranging from twenty-five cents to five dollars. The most common activity was probably the examination of deeds and ordering them to be recorded at the court house. It was convenient for the Holland Land Company to have Van der Kemp nearby when deeds were drawn for property sales.
In 1804 and 1806, brief records show that Van der Kemp did jury duty for his county. In the “Court of Oyer and Terminer and General Gaol Delivery holden at the School House near the Gaol in the Town of Rome in and for the County of Oneida,” he sat on the jury for three different cases. The circuit court was in session at Whitestown on the same day and Van der Kemp served on the jury for seven cases. It must have been a busy day for him. In 1806 he served on the grand jury for this court at the Whitestown session and in another case appeared as a witness.12 He was appointed assistant justice and justice of the peace five times for three-year terms, the last in 1804. One of these, 1801, he declined.
In national politics Van der Kemp was, of course, a Federalist, as were the majority of Oldenbarneveld residents. In state politics he was torn between the party of Clinton, and the party which supported Adams. In 1808 he attended a political meeting in Utica and served with Mappa on a committee to support the Federalist nominees.13 Long afterward the story was told that Dr. Luther Guiteau, who settled here in 1802, was a Democrat in the Federalist village. When party spirits rose two new doctors (presumably Federalists) were brought in. “But alas! when sickness came the people would call in Dr. Guiteau, and the last of the political doctors quit the place in disgust, declaring that he would not stay here and shake the bush for Dr. Guiteau to catch the bird.”14
When George Washington died in 1799 the people of Oldenbarneveld planned a memorial service. At the request of his townspeople, Van der Kemp delivered a eulogy to the assembled community on February 22, 1800. It touched on international and national affairs. It related national political affairs to the local community. Van der Kemp waxed sentimental; once again he saw Washington “under his hospitable roof,” “in his unassumed original grandeur” and with his “dignified character.” He outlined the great man’s personal sacrifices and services to the nation in improving agriculture, establishing national credit, increasing commerce, securing liberties and rights and putting national felicity and independence on a firm basis. Van der Kemp implored his audience to emulate Washington, to be “temperate, frugal, industrious, tender loving husbands,” to be “obedient, active, good citizens.” So then would felicity, peace and plenty keep a constant abode, “even in the western woods.”15
Van der Kemp’s oratorical advice to his neighbors followed his own philosophy as well as that of Washington. Francis was an affectionate husband, took a hand in the educational and religious training of his beloved children, and served his community and nation according to his abilities.
In 1799, or possibly the year before, John Van der Kemp, now sixteen years old, became a clerk for the Holland Land Company under the supervision of Adam Mappa, who had succeeded Gerrit Boon as agent. John was a good penman and his sentences were clear. The boy made steady progress with the company and later became agent in the Philadelphia office. In 1800 Van der Kemp wrote in regard to the three children, “Thus far they are growing up to their advantage and the two oldest principally are deserving the love and esteem of all who surround them—which is something … [as] it will be their chief inheritance.”16 Peter was the slow child.
Along with his legal services, his correspondence, his reading, his writing, and his religious activities, Van der Kemp continued his interest in scientific farming. In 1800 he renewed his correspondence with Chancellor Livingston and reopened their old discussion of agriculture. He said that he had not seen any of the Proceedings of the Agriculture Society since he left Esopus, could not afford to buy them, and hoped to borrow them. He continued:
My endeavors in these Western parts to promote the study of Agriculture—have been greatly in vain—in part by want of my inability to afford sufficient encouragements—We have made some experiments on the wild Buckwheat—on the canary-bird seed—the last comes here to perfection—We tried it only in small quantities in our gardens—It would be worth a new trial in the neighbourhood of a market—The ars veteranaria is much neglected.17
Van der Kemp told Livingston that he and Mappa planned to investigate a deposit of gypsum a half mile from the village, also a slate stratum to see if it overlay a coal seam as in Europe. The Chancellor thought the gypsum might be good but said that the western lands were too fertile to need it yet. In later years it would “prove an inestimatable treasure.” In return for a list of Dutch articles on agriculture, he promised to send the Proceedings when he went to the meeting of the state legislature in Albany.18 Van der Kemp also asked for himself and Mappa a bushel or so of Sicilian wheat, of American growth preferred, and some cantaloupe and cauliflower seeds. He had grown cauliflowers the previous summer “as big as the largest plate” and had brought one, not fully developed, from the garden for Engelbartha on the sixteenth of December. He said he had been reading the first four parts of the Proceedings and would send for the next one at Albany. He said a “Mr. Laurentius” had brought to Oldenbarneveld from Albany small samples of both the Sicilian winter and summer wheat, both of which were growing. An additional request for this wheat was made to Livingston. However, the membership to the New York Society for the Promotion of Agriculture, Arts, and Manufactures which Livingston secured for him was regretfully declined by Van der Kemp. He said it was “beyond his power to become an useful member” due to his financial situation and that he would not be a useless one.19
Adams and Van der Kemp said little in their letters about farming although it was necessary for both of them to grow their food. Upon his retirement in March of 1801 Adams began the regular tasks of plowing and planting and Abigail that of milking the cows and feeding the chickens. Only occasional comments indicated regular farm chores during the growing seasons. Van der Kemp wrote a fragment in November, 1802, stating he had been busy gathering seeds and preparing his fields and gardens for spring. The following March when the late snows lay deep around his cottage and garden, he said he longed for spring. He added that for two years he had grown excellent cauliflowers, equal to Holland’s best, for his own and Mappa’s family.20 He boasted some years later that although his garden spot was small he often was able to make a distribution of surplus among the neighbors, sometimes being more successful than Mappa’s gardener.21 Yet the inclinations of the writer were always stronger than those of the farmer. A letter to Adams in 1808 reported he was compelled to write “tho a beautiful fair day and work enough in the garden to perform—but Adams! the garden shall remain, when either of us—when both shall be no more—”22
Chancellor Livingston received more details, especially about Van der Kemp’s experimental planting:
I succeeded here with greens, which I tried in vain at Esopus—I was compelled to content myself there with the Snasfagan[?]—here I cultivate the broad Windsor bean in the highest perfection—and doubt not or the horse and pigeon bean would succeed here, which I tried there in vain. Among the culinary herbs we have two sort of white beans—of a superior quality, prepared in various manner for the table—green—pickled dry—The Scorsonera—the Sellery—The Red cabbage and cauliflower—These two sorts I had in as high perfection as I ever did see them in Europe, and never equalled at N.Y.
Here I again must make an application to your politeness with a request for a few seeds of cauliflower sellery—Endivy with broad leaves and uncurled—cantaloup melon—and watermelons—which you may—if to spare—join to the M.S.—when they are returned. I intend next summer—if I remain alive—to send some seeds to Batavia [Dutch East Indies]—to my old friends the Mars-chalk and Governor Daendels and Gristier Blok [who had visited in Oldenbarneveld]—and by you, my Dear Sir! I may be enabled to render this boon more valuable—23
Dutch materials on agriculture came to Van der Kemp’s hands from time to time, and these he perused carefully. Then he attempted to make any new ideas useful to America by sending notes to Livingston and by submitting excerpts and comments to the Agricultural Society. When Livingston returned from France, Van der Kemp hoped that new life would come to the society. The scholar from his “wilderness” sent to the society “Observations Concerning the Lea-Bug,” “The Cultivation of the Poppy,” “The Cure of a Particular Disease in Cattle,” and a wooden model of a maltboard (a special platform for drying germinated barley) used in Zeeland. In return, he had only curt messages saying they had been received.24 He wrote to the chancellor to tell about the Dutch May harrow. It was simple to make and to use, and could be drawn by either horses, oxen or even one stout horse. If the soil was clear of stumps, a great deal of soil could be prepared in one day. He explained that his friend Cau had described it in a letter.25
Van der Kemp was welcome as a member of the state agricultural society but had too much competition from Livingston, Samuel L. Mitchill, David Hosack, John Jay, James Duane, Simeon De Witt and Elkanah Watson for his contributions to be noted. His agricultural efforts were appreciated chiefly by his neighbors in Oldenbarneveld, while he shared them by correspondence with Livingston, Adams, Washington, and other far-away friends.