Historic Highlights: (Historic Highlights of Pine Plains and Vicinity)
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Historic Highlights of Pine Plains and Vicinity

Sesquicentennial Edition


§2 Historic Highlights

Helen Cole

The effort being made by the Dutchess County Historical Society to stimulate interest in local history is indicative of a growing realization of the importance of preserving early records and of creating greater interest in the founding and early history of our communities. I am strongly convinced that we do not generally pay enough attention to our local history. With every day that passes we are getting farther and farther from our beginnings and for our information of things of less than a century ago we must depend on fragmentary evidence or inaccurately remembered stories. I feel that we are neglecting it in the public schools for in our eagerness to present the broad scene of history we fail to emphasize those particular acts of the historical play which may have taken place in our own communities, thus missing one of our greatest opportunities to make history vivid and real. The books which relate Dutchess County history are too interesting to miss and my chief purpose in discussing them is to bring to your attention some of these fascinating volumes with which you may not be familiar.

The early history of the county as a whole contains many interesting facts. The greater part of my information on this topic has been taken from the introductory pages of the recently published volume of the American Guide series entitled "Dutchess County." The early exploration of that portion of the Hudson Valley which is now Dutchess County seems to be somewhat uncertain. Historians are sure, however, that it was not explored by either Gomez or Verrazano who reached the mouth of the Hudson in 1524 and 1525. The first authenticated voyage up the river was that of Hendrik Hudson made in 1609. On the return of the Half Moon down stream Hudson anchored near what is now Beacon, and he reports in his log that "friendly Indians brought maize, tobacco and pumpkins." The voyage was resumed the next day and for seventy-five years the Indians were undisturbed.

The region at the time of its organization as a county in 1683 was well populated by Wappinger Indians, a branch of the Algonquin tribe. There seems to be some uncertainty about the meaning of the name Wappinger. The Indian word, Wampi, meaning "dwellers on the east bank of the river" and the Dutch Wappinger, meaning "weapon bearers" both have been claimed as the source. This group of Wappinger Indians occupied the land from the city of New York to what is now the southern boundary of Red Hook. The Indian population was centered in the extreme southwestern part of the present county because of the good fishing there and the streams which made fine harbors for their canoes. There is in existence a document, dated August 8, 1683, which is an Indian deed conveying land to Francis Rombout and Gulian Verplanck, the first record of a transfer of land in this region from the Indians to the white people.

The relations of the white settlers with these Indians appear to be peaceable and friendly. We are told that from 1711 to 1724 the Sackett family, who lived near what is now Amenia, was the only white family between Poughkeepsie and New Milford. In 1724 another family, the Winegars, moved to this region but the two families lived in complete isolation and with no defenses from the Indians. Not far away, however, in Connecticut, near Litchfield, palisades and soldiers to guard the workers in the fields were necessary. Perhaps because of their friendly attitude little consideration was given to the Indians. Their peaceful disposition facilitated their exploitation; the strife between the Dutch and English encouraged enmity toward the Indians; the white civilization was intolerant and destructive of the ancient Indian mode of life, and the white diseases were fatal to the Indians. Gradually the Indian was driven from the county, his last stand being made at the Moravian mission near Bethel, and by 1774 there were only three hundred Indians in all on both sides of the Hudson River.

From 1685 to 1731 the British crown granted the territory of the present county to private persons. Although these grants or patents are somewhat disputed it is generally agreed that there were eleven. In the order of their establishment they are as follows: the Rombout patent made in 1683 and including Fishkill, East Fishkill, Wappingers, parts of LaGrange and Poughkeepsie; Minisinck in 1686 constituting the present town of Poughkeepsie; Schuyler in 1688 which included two tracts of the Minisinck patent and most of Red Hook; Artsen-Rosa-Elton, later called Kipsbergen, in 1688 including the southwestern part of Rhinebeck; Pawling in 1696 which is now Staatsburg; Great Nine Partners in 1697 extending between Crum Elbow Creek and the Fallkill; Rhinebeck in 1703 including Rhinebeck and part of Red Hook, and Fauconier in 1805 now Hyde Park. These first eight patents disposed of all of the land fronting on the river, leaving the remainder to be divided into three patents: Beekman in 1803 which included Union Vale, parts of LaGrange, Dover, and Pawling; Little Nine Partners in 1706 which included Milan, Pine Plains, North East, and parts of Stanford and Clinton, and the Oblong of Equivalent in 1731 which included eastern Dutchess from North East to Westchester.

By this means 806 square miles were issued to less than forty men. An annual payment to the British crown of some commodity, generally wheat, was demanded. This was received from the tenants and thus there was set up practically a feudal system which caused much trouble and unrest an~ was one of the main causes in this region of the Revolutionary War.

The old territorial boundaries of the County are interesting in view of the many changes which have been made. Dutchess County was one of the twelve original divisions of New York, set up in 1683. The original boundaries were the Van Cortlandt property (now the Westchester County line) on the south, the Hudson River on the west, and Roeliff Jansen's Kill on the north. Later Livingston's manor, now southern Columbia County, was taken away, and in 1812 Putnam County was organized, thus changing the northern and southern boundaries. The eastern boundary of the county was disputed for some time, the Connecticut claim overlapping that of New York. A compromise was finally reached, however, and as part of that settlement the region known as the Oblong was turned over to New York.

The County was named, as we all know, in honor of the Duchess of York, the Duke of York having been given New York by the King of England Charles 11.

Little had been done in the way of settlement of the county before 1664, in which year the English gained the land from the Dutch. Prior to that year the Dutch had made three successful settlements at Albany, Kingston and New York. The rest of the territory had been left to the patroon system with the result that Dutchess County was practically untouched. After 1664, although New York was controlled by the English, the greater part of settlement was accomplished by the Dutch.

These early settlements were very primitive, being frequently merely caves in the sides of hills. The settlements grew up back from the river as is shown by the old centers of Poughkeepsie, Rhinebeck and Fishkill. The nature of the land partly explains this but it was also due to the location of the King's Highway. This road, the building of which was authorized by the Colonial Assembly in 1703, extended from King's Bridge across the Harlem River, the first of Manhattan's bridges, to the ferry at Crawlew across from Albany. The road was to be built and maintained by the counties through which it passed. Dutchess County, being but sparsely settled, was at first required to provide a path only wide enough for a man and a horse.

The settlement of the county gradually increased and in 1728 a number of Quakers came from Westchester and Connecticut to settle in the Oblong. By 1731 there were settlements in every section of the county, many people having come from New England.

Dutchess County's part in the Revolutionary War does not seem very spectacular although the landlord-tenant situation resulted in two distinct attitudes with Tories well represented. The 4th New York Regiment, also called the Dutchess Continental Line, was recruited from this county and at Poughkeepsie two American frigates and several smaller vessels were built. A military stores depot was established at Fishkill and Trinity Episcopal Church was used as a hospital. At what is now Rudco there were forged parts of the chain which was strung across the Hudson at Fort Montgomery.

It was in 1777, a very critical year in the War, that fighting came close to Dutchess County. The paramount question was the control of the Hudson Valley for the English were attempting to isolate New England from the rest of the colonies. A British force was sent up the river and the fleet anchored above Hyde Park. General Israel Putnam was stationed at Red Hook and it looked as though some excitement might follow, when word came of Burgoyne's surrender and the fleet turned back. Fighting did not again come near Dutchess.

The most exciting event in the early history of Dutchess County was the Ratification of the Constitution at Poughkeepsie in 1788. There was considerable opposition in New York to its ratification and feeling ran high while the assembly was meeting at Poughkeepsie. Governor Clinton, one of the chief opponents, was in charge of the meeting, with Chancellor Livingstone and Alexander Hamilton the chief supporters. The opposition was based first on the fear that liberties would be curtailed by the Constitution and secondly on a feeling that because of the importance of the Hudson River and the prosperity of shipping in the port of New York, if New York should remain independent it would be self-supporting. On the other hand if it joined the Union it would be forced to turn over much of its financial resources in taxes. After much debate and many heated arguments the Constitution was ratified but the opposition had resulted in the adoption of the Bill of Rights.

Dutchess County history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries contains much that is interesting and exciting but our attention now turns to the stories of the various communities and to the history of Pine Plains in particular.

Pine Plains holds an important position in the history of the United States for it has the distinction of being the scene of the first Moravian congregation of Protestant Indian converts in America. The history of this Moravian mission is dramatic and moving. In 1735 Moravian missionaries came from Germany to the colony of Georgia to Christianize the Indians. It is made clear that they were not to interfere in any way with any missionary work which was then in progress, but rather to reach the outcast and forgotten heathen. Shortly after their arrival political trouble with the Spaniards developed and the mission disbanded.

One of the missionaries, Christian Henry Rausch, was sent to New York. There he learned of an embassy of Mohican Indians, three chiefs, who were in the city on business with the Colonial government. Contrary to our information about the Wappinger Indians, the Mohicans are reported by the Reverend Sheldon Davis in his pamphlet "Shekomeko" (from which much of this portion of my account is taken) as being terribly ferocious and characterized by "beastly intoxication." They had had, however, some acquaintance with the Gospel and seemed anxious to learn more and they finally agreed to Rausch's coming to teach them. They led him to their village which was then called Shekomeko, located two miles south of Pine Plains between Halcyon Lake and what is now Bethel.

Brother Rausch arrived in 1740 and immediately plunged into his tremendous task, living in the Indian manner, visiting the Indians daily and suffering many hardships. He accomplished much good, the conversion of the chief Tschoop being evidence of some of the striking changes which took place in the converts. The chief obstacles, however, were put in his path by the white settlers whom our local historian, Isaac Huntting, in his "History of Little Nine Partners" characterizes as being chiefly squatters. These people had made large gains by the vice of the Indians, especially their drunkenness, and naturally were opposed to any efforts to Christianize them. Consequently they soon stirred up persecutions against Brother Rausch. He found in John Rau, one of the earliest settlers of the community, a warm friend who did much to protect and defend him and for a time the work flourished.

The headquarters of the Moravian organization in this country was at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and from there in 1741 was sent Gottleib Buttner, a young missionary, to be a companion to Rausch. He preached his first sermon on January 14, 1742. That year at Oley, Pennsylvania, the two missionaries were ordained as deacons and three Indians from the Shekomeko village were baptized. Chief Tschoop being lame was unable to make the journey but he was later baptized at the mission. In 1742 the mission was visited by the Bishop Count Zinzendorf accompanied by his daughter Benigna. At this time more Indians were baptized and the first regular congregation of believing Indians composed of ten persons was established in North America. On March 13, 1743 the first communion service was held and in the following July the chapel was finished.

Services were held there regularly but the persecution by the white people was still going on. They caught at every rumor about the missionaries, all of which were unfounded. The missionaries were branded as papists and traitors. Difficulty between the French and English was beginning and this led to more suspicion of the Moravians for the Jesuits were being employed to alienate the tribes from the English. The Moravians were accused of possessing firearms and of preparing the Indians for a great massacre. They were summoned to appear before justices and finally before Governor Clinton but at each trial their innocence was established. However they were finally forced Out on the pretense that the grounds on which the village was built belonged to others. Buttner, who had been ill for some time, died at the age of 29 before the mission was entirely disbanded. He was buried near the old village. Rausch and many of the Indians went to the Moravian mission in Connecticut near Indian Lake.

Little notice was taken of the mission until over one hundred years later when in 1857 the Reverend Sheldon Davis of Pleasant Valley published an account of it in a pamphlet entitled "Shekomeko." This pamphlet occasioned a pilgrimage to the spot by the Moravian Historical Society in 1858. The pilgrimage was taken by several people from Pennsylvania accompanied by some residents of Poughkeepsie and Mr. Davis and his wife and was also joined here by the following residents of this community: Mr. and Mrs. Edward Huntting, Samuel Huntting, Samuel Deuel, Theron Wilber. They were entertained graciously at the homes of Edward Huntting and Samuel Deuel at Bethel and Theron Wilber at Halcyon Lake and investigated the sites of the Indian village, the chapel and Buttner's grave. The pilgrimage led to the erection in 1859 of the monument at Bethel and one marking the site of another mission at Indian Lake near Sharon, Connecticut.

The majority of the early white settlers of this region came from the Palatinate, a German state situated on the Rhine. Driven from their homes by the oppression to which Protestants were subjected and by the grinding poverty occasioned by the War of the Spanish Succession several thousand of these 'poor Palatines" had fled to England during the first decade of the eighteenth century. Being completely without financial resources they became a burden on the British government and in 1708 largely through the efforts of a Lutheran minister, the Reverend Joshua Kocherthal, Queen Anne agreed to send a number of these people to New York at her own expense "to settle upon Hudson's River.. . where they may be useful to this Kingdom particularly in the production of naval stores and as a frontier against the French and their Indians."

They were placed under contract like indentured servants to work out their time in making tar and other stores for the Crown and settled into camps along the river. The Palatines were noted for large families and gradually these families spread through Dutchess County. One authority on the subject believes that probably nine-tenths of the settlers in this region before 1770 were of Palatine descent.

For our knowledge of the history of Pine Plains we have the comprehensive and interesting "History of Little Nine Partners" by Isaac Huntting. Huntting explains in the early chapters of his book that the Northeast precinct, a part of the Little Nine Partners patent, included Milan, North East and Pine Plains. Geographical conditions however made separation necessary and in 1823 the first town election of the town of Pine Plains was held.

The earliest house of which we have record is the Booth House, an Indian trading post built about 1728 which stood on the site of the home of the late Isaac Kilmer on the north side of Route 199 near the intersection of Church Street and Poplar Avenue. Huntting reports an interview which took place in 1881 between himself and a Mrs. Eliza Wilson whose father and mother came to Pine Plains in 1798. They lived, she said, in a house on the property now owned by Clyde Chase, and the only dwellings in the community then were that one, a small house and blacksmith shop on what is now Mrs. Christine Crouch's property, a hotel on the Stissing House site, a log cabin across from it, the Stephen Eno dwelling (just south of the Eno Law Office), a house on the site of Mrs. Wilma Knickerbocker's home across from the Grand Union store, an old part of the Sayre residence (now the home of Mrs. Penelope Schryver), the John Turk house on the property next to Memorial Hall, a house on the site of the home of Dr. Douglas Hart on East Church Street, one on the site of the Presbyterian manse, the Brush house (a log cabin) part of which is still standing on property just west of the Grand Union, a building on the site of Berlin's Department Store on the northeast corner of the intersection of Main and Church Streets, and the Booth House mentioned previously. Morris Graham's stone house, about 2 miles south of the crossroads in Pine Plains and now owned by Walter Cox, begun in 1768, had been completed in 1772.

It is significant of the times that the greater portion of "History of Little Nine Partners" deals with the churches of Pine Plains. The earliest was of course the Moravian chapel built in 1743. This was followed by the Round Top church at Bethel which was Lutheran in denomination. I was interested in reading in this connection to learn that my great-great-great-great grandfather, Alexander MacIntosh, traveled to Albany on foot in 1760 for the communion service used in this church. Later in 1780 another church was built on the same site and it evidently became widely known, having the only public burial ground in the town. In 1772 the German Reformed Church was built about two miles east of the village. This organization was later absorbed into the Vedder Church, now known as the Gallatin Reformed Church. In 1807 a Quaker meeting house was erected at Bethel. Other old churches mentioned are the church at Attlebury, that at Pulver's Corners and the Christian Church west of the village.

The year 1800 saw the beginning of an industrial boom in Pine Plains and in 1813 there were drawn up Articles of Association for the building of a Union Meeting House. Contributions were solicited and the work begun in April, 1815. The building was paid for by the sale of pews at auction which brought in $4000. At first only ministers of the Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed, German Lutheran and Episcopal denominations were allowed to preach in it and each group met one Sunday in a month. This was later amended to include ministers of all or any Christian denominations. In 1835 a bell was added to the building, being the first church bell in the community. It was rung, says Huntting "on all occasions of celebration and tolled at every death and funeral." The Union Meeting House continued, in name at least, until 1879. In the meantime some of the groups had temporarily disbanded, others had erected their own churches and the Union Meeting House had become virtually the Presbyterian Church. In 1879 the building was rebuilt, much of the money for the work being raised by the ladies of the church. A fair was held on October 8 and 9 at which $450 was raised. From that time on until it was destroyed by fire in 1922 it remained the Presbyterian Church and was replaced by the present stone church.

The other churches which had been built in the meantime were the Methodist in 1835, the Baptist which was built and destroyed by a tornado in 1837, but rebuilt the same year and the Episcopal Church of the Regeneration in 1861. St. Anthony's Roman Catholic Church was built in 1912.

Another ancient institution which Huntting discusses is the Union Library, the first public library in Dutchess County. On December 14, 1797 a meeting was held in the Stissing House to discuss the possibilities of a library and subscription papers were drawn up for circulation. By 1798 $106.35 had been contributed and 95 volumes were purchased. Eighteen more were contributed and the list of books, found in "History of Little Nine Partners" is very interesting in the light of present day reading tastes. The books could be kept six weeks after which a fine of one cent a day was charged. The librarian was to assess damages. For "the least grease spot (candle grease) or rend or soil beyond common usage the fine was three cents, all greater damage in like proportion." Although our information about the library is rather vague it is understood that the first book collection was housed in the Stissing House. Anyone who contributed $2.50 to the library or its equivalent in books was considered a proprietor."

In the latter part of the 18th century one of the best known of Pine Plains institutions was the Seymour Smith Academy. By a bequest of Seymour Smith's will, his entire property was turned over to the town for establishing an academy for the promotion of science and useful knowledge. The building was erected in 1877 and opened with 50 pupils in 1879. In 1896 it became the Union Free School and in 1933, the Pine Plains Central School having been established, the old Seymour Smith Academy building was torn down and a new building housing both elementary and secondary grades was erected on the site. In 1970, with the completion of the Stissing Mountain Junior and Senior High School, this building became the elementary school, again bearing the illustrious name of Seymour Smith.

The first schoolhouse in Pine Plains of which we have any record stood on land leased from George Clark and located near the present American Legion Home. Later land was bought east of the Meeting House site and a schoolhouse erected where the Butterfield home now stands. At the end of the nineteenth century the public school was located on the south side of East Church Street on the site of the present Wally Smith home.

The books which have been written about Dutchess County are as interesting as the history itself. The greater number of books which I shall mention are available for reference in the Adriance Memorial Library in Poughkeepsie and practically all are in the New York State Library in Albany. A small number of these valuable volumes are to be found on the local history shelf in the Pine Plains Free Library, some being the property of the Little Nine Partners Historical Society, others of the Library itself. They may be divided roughly into three groups: those about New York State with some reference to Dutchess County, those about the county as a whole, and those which deal with individual towns in the county.

One of the most interesting in the first group is Harold Donaldson Eberlein's "The Manors and Historic Homes of the Hudson Valley" published in 1924. Four famous Dutchess County houses are described: the Clear Everitt house in Poughkeepsie which played an important p art in the Revolution, the Teller Homestead, the oldest standing building in Dutchess County, located at Beacon, where Madam Brett, a famous early settler, lived, Mount Gulian which was Baron von Steuben's headquarters during the Revolution and where the society of the Cincinnati was organized, and the Wharton House at Fishkill which James Fenimore Cooper made famous in his book "The Spy." Other titles that might be included in this group are "The Hudson" by Carl Carmer, "The Pathway of Empire," Edward Hungerford; "The Hudson from the Wilderness to the Sea," Benson J. Lossing (recently reprinted); "Biography of a River," John Mylod, with its fascinating photography; "Dutch Houses in the Hudson Valley," Helen Wilkinson Reynolds; "History of the Tribes of Hudson's River," E. M. Ruttenber, published in 1872, and "Hudson River Landings" by Paul Wilstach. Most useful of all for its invaluable source material is "The History of the State of New York" edited by E. B. O'Callaghan in 1849.

Among the Dutchess County histories are two relatively recent volumes by Henry Noble MacCracken, "Old Dutchess Forever," published in 1956 and "Blithe Dutchess," 1958. Earlier publications are "History of Dutchess County" by Frank Hasbrouck, 1909, "History of Dutchess County, New York" by James H. Smith, 1882 and the earliest of the three, "General History of Duchess County" published in 1877 by Philip H. Smith, who refused to perpetuate the misspelling of the county's name. Also in this group are the very interesting supervisors' records beginning with "The Book of the Supervisors of Dutchess County 17 18-1722." One of the oldest books on Dutchess County is Hunting Sherril's "A Review of Diseases of Dutchess County from 1809 to 1825" published in 1826.

Helen Wilkinson Reynolds' "Dutchess County Doorways" is of great interest to the artist, architect and historian, containing accounts of "houses, places and people" and illustrated with over 200 full-page photographs. There are also the more specialized books such as the histories of the 128th and 150th Civil War Regiments, "Old Gravestones of Dutchess County" edited by Helen Reynolds and J. Wilson Poucher, a volume of great value to the genealogist and researcher, and "The History of the Lutheran Church" by William Hull. The Memorial Volume of the Dedication of the Moravian monuments, issued by the Moravian Historical Society also contains much of interest about the county, and the Dutchess County volume of the American Guide Series compiled by the WPA Federal Writers' Project in 1937 collects enlightening details about the county as a whole, as well as its individual communities.

Historical material devoted to the towns that make up Dutchess County is limited, and fortunate indeed the community, such as Pine Plains, that had its local historian. The efforts of Isaac Huntting, author of "History of Little Nine Partners," unappreciated in his lifetime, become more worthwhile with each passing year. Edmund Platt's "The Eagle's History of Poughkeepsie from the Earliest Settlements," and "Poughkeepsie, the Origin and Meaning of the Word" by Helen Reynolds are important titles in this group of histories. Rhinebeck's past is recorded in "Historic Old Rhinebeck" by Howard H. Morse, and Joel Benton wrote of Amenia in his "Persons and Places" as did also Newton Reed in his history of that town. The numerous papers prepared by members of the Dutchess County Historical Society and published by the Society in its Yearbooks are an invaluable source of local historical information.

It has been said that every man should study the past in order to understand the present and to anticipate the future. Perhaps an appreciation of these fascinating volumes of history of our area will serve as an inspiration to preserve local records and documents and even to compile accounts of those bits of local history that are known to us individually. Franklin D. Roosevelt who edited the records of the town of Hyde Park stated his purpose in so doing as follows: "First to preserve for future generations the local history which exists for the most part only in original manuscript form and may at any time be lost or destroyed, and, second, to encourage other towns in our county of Dutchess to carry out similar tasks."

John F. Kennedy in his introduction to the "American Heritage New Illustrated History of the United States" said, "There is little that is more important for an American citizen to know than the history and traditions of his country. Without such knowledge he stands uncertain and defenseless before the world, knowing neither where he has come from nor where he is going. With such knowledge, he is no longer alone but draws a strength far greater than his own from the accumulative experience of the past and the accumulative vision of the future." The history and traditions of our country are the sum of the history and traditions of the states, counties, towns and hamlets that comprise it. It is here on the local scene that our understanding begins.

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