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
Chapter I. THE TOWN'S EARLIEST HISTORY
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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).