A History of Oneonta
from its earliest settlement
to the present time
by Dudley M. Campbell. Oneonta, NY
G. W. Fairchild & Co. 1906

Transcribed & Contributed
by Sandy Goodspeed


The territory comprised within the present boundaries of the town of Oneonta, previous to the war of the Revolution was little known except as the scene of many a sanguinary conflict between the different Indian tribes which contended with each other for its possession. The Delawares, whose home was on the river bearing their name, had been in peaceful possession of the upper Susquehanna valley from time immemorial; but long before the outbreak of hostilities between England and her trans-Atlantic colonies, the Tuscaroras, a warlike tribe from Virginia, wandered up the Susquehanna from Chesapeake Bay and laid claim to the upper portion of the valley as their hunting grounds. From that time, with brief and uncertain intervals of peace up to coming of the Revolutionary struggle, the war between the contending tribes was waged with relentless fervor.

Eventually the war between these aboriginal tribes terminated in favor of the invaders, or Tuscaroras, who were soon thereafter allied to and became a part of the Six Nations, occupying the more northern and western portions of the state.

'Large Indian settlements or villages were located within the boundaries of the town of Oneonta-one at the mouth of the Charlotte creek and another at the mouth of the Otego creek, the former known as Adaquatingie and the latter known as Ahtigua. Both of these villages appear to have been abandoned before our war of Independence, as the Rev. Mr. Hawley, a missionary from Stockbridge, Mass., who passed down the valley in 1754, says his party camped over night at the mouth of the Ahtigua where there "had been" an Indian settlement.

A little more than a mile east of the line now established between Oneonta and Milford, at the confluence of the Susquehanna and Schenevus, there was also a large Indian village known as Tiondadon. The latter village is mentioned by Mr. Hawley as occupied by the aborigines in 1754.

In 1770 General Clinton's army passed down the valley from Otsego lake to join General Sullivan's forces to the westward. On their march they laid waste the rude hamlets wherever any Indian nations remained. The tradition had been handed down that when Clinton's dam was built for the purpose of raising the water of the lake in order that their luggage might be borne down on a flood-tide, the Indians were terrified at the diminution of the water, supposing it to be the work of the Great Spirit, and sped from the valley. General Clinton's passage through the valley was aided by means of batteaux which carried the luggage while the main army followed the well-worn trail that led down the river to the westward. An encampment was made for one night, at VanDerwerker's mill. This VanDerwerker built the first grist mill that was erected in the town. It stood southeasterly fifty rods from the Oneonta Milling Company's building. Near this old mill site the trail crossed the river some distance north of the iron bridge now spanning the Susquehanna at the lower end of Main street. Vestiges of the old mill dam were pointed out to me many years ago by my grandfather, Dr. Joseph Lindsay.

After the passage of the army to the westward, the Susquehanna valley ceased to be the permanent abiding place of the red men. A few scattered representatives of the once proud Tuscaroras and Oneidas built their temporary wigwams where convenience suggested, and derived such subsistence as the forest and stream afforded till their removal to Oneida, but they were no longer a terror to the settlers.

In the expeditions sent out to the southwestward from Albany, and likewise in the marauding expeditions of the savages against the frontier settlements along the Schoharie, the Susquehanna valley, wherein is situated the village of Oneonta, became the common highway to both parties. The old Indian trail, it has been ascertained, from the Schoharie fort to the west, passed down the Schenevus creek to it's mouth, there crossed the Susquehanna, and continued down the northwest side of the stream, passed through the village of Oneonta nearly along the line of Main street; thence crossing the river near the lower end of the village, it continued westward on the south side of the stream for some distance down the river, on toward the Chemung an the fort at Oswego. There was also another trail leading from Schoharie to Harpersfield and thence down the Charlotte creek to the Susquehanna.

"We had gone on about ten miles farther which brought us as low down as where Collier's bridge now crosses the river. Here we imagined that the Indians were possibly as cunning as ourselves, and would doubtless take the more obscure way and endeavor to meet us on the east side. On which account we waded the stream and struck into the woods crossing the Indian path, toward a place now called Crafttown." (Priest's Collection of Stories of the Revolution, published in 1836. "MeKeon's Scouts in Otsego County.")

On the high ground, a little distance beyond the southern extremity of the Lower or Parish Bridge, there has been found within the past few years a large ring, which from the inscription traced upon it, is supposed to have belonged to one of Butler's Rangers. This ring is now in the possessing of Dr. Meigs Case, and bears upon its outer side these words and letters: Georgius Rex; B. R." It is supposed that the letters "B. R." are abbreviations for "Butler's Rangers."

In 1638 two Cayuga Indians gave the following geographical information to the justices of Albany regarding the valley. The quotation is from the Documentary History of New York, Vol. I, page 393, etc."

"That it is one day's journey from the Mohawk Castles to the lake whence the Susquehanna river rises, and then ten days' journey from the river to the Susquehanna Castles-in all eleven days.

"One day and a half's journey by land from Oneida to the kill (Unadilla river), which falls into the Susquehanna river, and one day from the kill unto the Susquehanna river, and then seven days unto the Susquehanna Castle-in all nine and a half days' journey."

The Indians demand wherefore such particular information relative to the Susquehanna river is sought after from them, and whether people are about to come there? The Indians are asked if it would be agreeable to them if folks should settle there? The Indians answer that they would be very glad if people came to settle there, as it is higher than this place and more convenient to transport themselves and packs by water, inasmuch as they must bring everything hither on their backs. N. B.-The ascending of the Susquehanna river is one week longer than the descending."

In 1864 the Onondaga* and Cayuga sachems made an oration before Lord Howard of Effingham at Albany, from which the following extracts are taken. I have preserved the original spelling:

"Wee have putt all our land and ourselfs under the Protection of the great Duke of York, the brother of your great Sachim. We have given the Susquehanna River which we wonn with the sword to this Government and desire that it may be a branch of that great tree, Whose topp reaches to the Sunn, under whose branches we shall shelter our selvess from the French, or any other people, and our fire burn in your houses and your fire burns with us, and we desire that it always may be so, and will not that any of your Penn's people shall settle upon the Susquehanna River; for all our folks or soldiers are like Wolfs in the Woods, as you Sachim of Virginia know, we having no other land to leave to our wives and Children."


* From a record of a meeting of the mayor, and alderman of Albany in 1689 the Omondagas are called Ti-onon-dages.

In an old map found among the papers of Sir Guy Johnson, the Schenevus creek or valley is called Ti-ononda-don. The prefix Ti appears to have been quite common among Indian names, sometimes used and sometimes omitted. Doubtless Ononda is the root of the word Ti-ononda-don. As the Onondagas has claimed the Susquehanna country, the Indian etymologist might naturally inquire whether there was any kinship between Tionondaga, Tionondadon, Onondaga, and the word Oneonta. This belief in a common etymon might be somewhat strengthened by a quotation from a "Journal of What Occurred between the French and Savages," kept during the year 1657-58. (See Doc. Hist, Vol. I, p. 44:

"The word Ononta, which signifies in the Iroquois tongue, a mountain, has given the name to the village called Onnontae, or as others call it, Onnontague, because it is on a mountain."

Perhaps the word Oneonta may have been derived from Ononda. In all languages dentals are interchangable, which would make Ononta the same as Ononda. Among the Hurons who had been conquered by the Iroquois, a tribe is mentioned under the name of Ti-onnonta-tees.

No reliance can be placed upon any particular spelling of Indian names as the Aborigines had no written language and the spelling was a matter of guess work from the pronunciatoin.


In 1691 the governor and council of the province of New York sent an address to the king of England, from which the following extract is made:

"Albany lies upon the same river, etc. Its commerce extends itself far as the lakes of Canada and the Sinnekes Country in which is the Susquehanna River."

It appears that the ownership of the Susquehanna was the object of no little dispute among the tribes composing the Six Nations. The Onondagas claimed the country.

"At fifty miles from Albany the Land Carriage from the Mohawk's river to a lake from whence the Northern Branch of the Susquehanna takes its rise, does not exceed fourteen miles. Goods may be carried from this lake in Battoes or flat-bottomed Vessels through Pennsylvania to Maryland and Virginia, the current of the river running everywhere easy without any cataract in all that large space."

The last quotation is from the report of the Surveyor General to the Lieutenant Governor in 1637.

The foregoing extracts appear to contain about all the information which the authorities at the colonial capital could glean of the Indians concerning the Susquehanna country, as it was called.

The few scattered natives who remain here after the establishment of peace, were, in 1795, removed to the reservation in Oneida county, and became a part of the Indian tribes already settled there.

In volume III of the Documentary History of New York, a quaintly interesting letter of the Rev. Gideon Hawley may be found. The letter is interesting, because it may be safely regarded as the earliest authentic writing respecting this portion of the valley. Mr. Hawley was sent out as a missionary teacher to the Indians.

About this time a good deal of interest was being taken in the education of Indian youth. For the furtherance of this design, the Rev. Eleazur Wheelock established a school at New Lebanon, Conn., for the education of young whites and young Indians. This school afterwards ripened into Dartmouth college, and was removed to Hanover, New Hampshire. From this new-fledged seminary the Rev. Mr. Kirkland was sent among the Oneidas, and his labors in that quarter resulted many years afterwards in the founding of Hamilton college at Clinton. From a similar school established at Stockbridge, Mass., and which appears to have been favored by the influence and good will of the celebrated Jonathan Edwards, Mr. Hawley was sent to Oquaga on the Susquehanna.

Oquaga was the Indian settlement near the site of the present village of Windsor in Broome county. Mr. Hawley's journey was from Albany up the Mohawk, across the mountains to Schoharie, thence along the valley to Schenevus creek and westward. As his letter, in the form of a journal, contains the earliest account that is known of the presence of the white people within the present territorial limits of Oneonta, I hope the quotations I make from it may prove of some interest. The letter is dated July 31st, 1794. The first entry is as follows: July 31, 1794.

"It is forty years this date since I was ordained a missionary to the Indians, in the old South Meeting House, when the Rev. Dr. Sewall preached on the occasion and the Rev. Mr. Prince gave the charge. The Rev. Mr. Foxcroft and Dr. Chauncey of Cambridge, assisted upon the occasion, and Mr. Appleton. I entered upon this arduous business at Stockbridge, under the patronage of the Rev. Mr. Edwards. Was instructor of a few families of Iroquois, who came down from their country for the sake of christian knowledge and the schooling of their children. These families consisted of Mohawks, Oneidas and Tuscaroras. I was their school-master, and preached to them on the Lord's day. Mr. Edwards visited my school and catechised my scholars, and frequently delivered a discourse to the children."

This quotation may serve to show what kind of man this early missionary was, and the deep interest then felt in the education and civilization of the aborigines. The formality with which the clerical harness was put on in the historic Old South Church, is strikingly in contrast with the way the missionary to the Indians is equipped now-a-days.

In the following quotations the dates are of the year 1753. May 22d of that year, a party consisting of Mr. Hawley, Mr. Woodbridge, a Mr. Ashley and Mrs. Ashley, set out from Stockbridge for Oquaga.

May 30th, 1793, a little more than a week after leaving Stockbridge, the party had its first view of the Susquehanna at Colliers. As the journal gives some description of our valley as it was then-about one hundred and fifty years ago-I quote freely:

"Our way was generally obstructed by fallen trees, old logs, miry places, pointed rocks, and entangled roots, which were not to be avoided. We were alternately on the ridge of a lofty mountain and in the depths of a valley. At best, our path was obscure and we needed guides to go before us. Night approaches, we halt and a fire is kindled; the kettles are filled and we refresh ourselves; and we adore Divine Providence, returning thanks for the salvations of the day and committing ourselves to God for the night, whose presence is equally in the recesses of the solitary wilderness and in the social walks of the populous city. With the starry heavens above me, and having the earth for my bed, I roll myself in a blanket, and without a dream to disturb my repose, pass the night in quiet, and never awake till the eyelids of morning are opened, and the penetrating rays of the sun look through the surrounding foliage.

"It may not be impertinent to observe that in this wilderness we neither see nor hear any birds of music. These frequent only the abodes of man. There is one wood-bird, not often seen, but heard without any melody in his note, in every part of the wilderness wherever I have been. In some parts of this extensive country, the wild pigeons breed in numbers almost infinite. I once passed an extensive valley where they had rested; and for six or eight miles, where the trees were near and thick, every tree had fifteen or twenty upon them. But as soon as their young are able, they take wing and are seen no more."

The next extract is from the spiritual journal of May 30th, 1753: "We were impatient to see the famous Susquehanna, and as soon as we came, Mr. Woodbridge and I walked down to its banks. Disappointed at the smallness of its stream, he exclaimed, 'Is this the Susquehanna?'

"When we returned our young Indians, who had halted, came in, looking as terrible and ugly as they could, having bedaubed their faces with vermilion, lampblack, white lead, etc. A young Indian, always carries with him his looking glass and paint; and does not consider himself as dressed until he has adjusted his countenance by their assistance.

"Mr. Woodbridge and Mrs. Ashley, our interpreter, could not travel any further by land. We therefore conclude to get a canoe and convey them by water. From this place (now Colliers) to Onohoghwage is three days' journey; and how bad the traveling is we cannot tell.

"May 31st, (1753). We met with difficulty about getting a canoe, and sent an Indian into the woods to get ready a bark, but he made small progress.

"In the afternoon came from Otsego Lake, which is the source of this stream, George Windecker and another, in a small batteau, with goods and rum, going down to Onohoghwage upon a trading voyage. We agreed with them to carry the interpreter and Mr. Woodbridge in the batteau; and bought a wooden canoe to carry our flour and baggage.

"We soon saw the ill effects of Windecker's rum. The Indians began to drink and some of our party were the worse for it. We perceived what was coming.

"June 1st, 1753, is with me a memorable day, and for forty years and more has not passed unnoticed. We got off as silently as we could with ourselves and our effects. Some went by water and others by land, with the horses. I was with the land party. The Indians, half intoxicated, were outrageous, and pursued both the party by water, in which was Mr. Woodbridge, and the party by land. One came so near us as with his club to strike at us, and he hit one of our horses. We hastened. Neither party met till we arrived at Wauteghe (the name of the Indian village at the mouth of the Otego creek), at which had been an Indian village, where were a few fruit trees and considerable cleared land, but no inhabitants. Here, being unmolested and secure, we all refreshed ourselves. But Pallas was the worse for his rum; was so refractory that Mr. Ashley's hired man, who had been in the canoe with him, was afraid. I reproved him; got into the canoe to keep him in order; was young and inexperienced; knew not much of Indians, nor much of mankind; whereby I endangered my life."

In 1763, Rev. Mr. Wheelock made application to Gen. Amherst for a land grant in the following words: "That a tract of land, about fifteen or twenty miles square, or so much as shall be sufficient for four townships, on the west side of the Susquehanna river, or in some other place more convenient, in the heart of the Indian country, be granted in favor of this school. The said townships be peopled with a chosen number of inhabitants of known honesty, integrity, and such as love and will be kind to, and honest in their dealings with Indians.

"That a thousand acres of, and within said grant be given to this school; part of it to be a college for the education of missionaries, interpreters, school-masters, etc.; and part of it a school to teach reading, writing, etc. And that there be manufactures for the instruction of both males and females in whatever shall be useful and necessary in life, and proper tutors, masters and mistresses be provided for the same."

In 1770 a grant of 26,000 acres of land was made to Sir William Johnson. This tract was largely in the present town of Oneonta. How far it extended down the river from the Otego creek is not certain. It appears to have included the land on both sides of the Susquehanna west of the Otego creek, and some old deeds are in existence which refer to Johnson's patent. It has been erroneously supposed that this tract was granted by a royal patent. Deamland was acquired by grant or deed from King Hendrick. As the story goes Hendrick related to Sir William a "dream" that the latter had presented him with a new set of clothes. Johnson fulfilled that dream by presenting the chief with the suit, and soon afterwards told him of a dream in which Sr. William had been given by Hendrick a large tract of land. The reply of the latter was "I suppose what white man dreams must be true, but don't dream again." The tract thus acquired was in the town of Danube, Herkimer county. (Benton's History of Herkimer also Annals of Tryon county).

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