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

Historical Sketches from The Oneonta Herald.

The following article from The Oneonta Herald of December 14, 1882, will interest not only the comparatively few remaining who knew and remember the man referred to, but also the many to whom the early history of our township has a fascination which attaches in other lands to historical or legendary accounts of the days and scenes much more remote. This article is from the pen of W. E. YAGER.


Soon after the close of the Revolutionary war, the fear of the Indians having been dissipated by the crushing defeat they had met at the hands of SULLIVAN, emigrants from Albany and the country east began to seek homes in the fertile valley of the upper Susquehanna, at that time an extreme frontier. Among the earliest of these was Thomas MORENUS. The title to the lands in this quarter of the state was originally in great patentees, owning thousands of acres which they had obtained from the government on easy terms. One of the chief of these land owners was Goldsbrow BANYAR, whose grant comprised a very considerable portion of the lands opposite this village on the other side of the river. To Banyar Thomas Morenus made application for a tract of one hundred acres, which was accorded him in consideration of the payment of one hundred and twenty-five dollars.

Making his way west, about the year 1793, from Albany county to the junction of the Schenevus and Susquehanna, the emigrant journeyed thence, by an Indian trail whose line was probably not far from that of the road between Oneonta and Colliers, to the other side of the river, where, leaving the trail, after a preliminary settlement higher up the mountain he finally located his purchase on the bluff opposite the Red bridge and to the east of the present AMSDEN place. Here for the remainder of his life he dwelt, and there passed the life of his son, Jeremiah T., who died on the morning of Wednesday, in his eighty-ninth year, having been born in June, 1794.

A grand tho' sombre scene must this valley have been at that time. Dense forests of evergreens lined the hillsides, while the interval was thickset with a heavy growth of hard wood. There was still an Indian village at Colliers. Through the forest yet roamed herds of deer, bear were not uncommon, while at night might be heard the long drawn howl of the wolf or more rarely the strange cry of the catamount. If the wood teemed with game, no less did the streams abound with fish; not such as in these days serve to allure the truant schoolboy, but trout, pike and shad in size and number beyond the wildest dream of a modern sportsman.

Mid surroundings such as these did Thomas Morenus hew out his humble home, and in a cabin built of logs, with clay and moss, to stop the crevices, a great yawning fire-place, the loom and spindle standing near, Uncle Jeremiah first saw the light.

The family were not without neighbors. Over on the flat was the VanDERWERKER saw mill. Beyond on what is now Main street, was a little story-and-a-half hotel, whose proprietor, by dint of industrious cultivation of a tract of land stretching along the western side of what now is Dietz street, managed to obtain a comfortable living. There was also a house at the Oneonta Plains and another, possibly more, at Colliers. As years passed, additional settlers came. HOUGHTALING, HUBBARD, SEACRAFT, ADAMS, BREWER, BRINK, WHITMARSH, are among the names thus added to the list of pioneers.

Soon the forest began to show here and there great gaps; game grew scarcer; cornfields appeared; a small stock of goods was placed in a little building not far from the hotel.

Not unpleasant was the life of these sturdy frontiersmen. The soil was productive, and of corn and wheat there was enough. If cane sugar was unknown, there was maple in abundance, and tho' coffee and tea were unheard of at that date, they found a tolerable substitute in the leaf of the wintergreen and other herbs. Game and fish were generally to be had for the taking, while the few cattle and sheep driven along with them in their pilgrimage, grew apace in number, despite the foray now and then of a stray wolf. Perhaps the greatest privation in the bill of fare was from the dearth of fruit.

It was not until Uncle Jeremy was a lad of fourteen that an orchard was planted, with seed brought by his sister from an eastern locality. As for clothing, there was little "store cloth" to be seen, but the homespun prepared from the flax and wool of the farm proved quite as serviceable; and so habituated had the old gentleman become to it, that he continued its use at intervals to the end of his days.

In occupation there was a variety. "They farmed it summers and lumbered it winters." All thro' the cold months the pioneers were busy with their axes, felling the great pines on the hillsides, which, cut into logs and rolled into the stream, were in springtime rafted down the river. The trip to Havre de Grace was not, however, the only way out of the wilderness. As the roads improved, a steady, tho' not very extensive, trade grew up with Albany. What grain could be transported thither found a ready sale at remunerative prices. The money obtained with that derived from lumbering was applied in payment of the farms, many of which had been purchased on time. There was likewise another source of revenue; among the first buildings to appear along the line of Main street were two "asheries". They were located below the present road, and were used for the manufacture of potash from wood ashes. At the ashery the ashes to be had for the burning from farms whence the owners wished to clear the hard wood, could be disposed of at ten cents a bushel.

Thus matters stood at the breaking out of the second war with England. Uncle Jeremy was then a stout boy of twenty, with a healthy love of adventure, which, as the day of the "Tories and Injuns" was for this part of the country passed, he gratified by enlistment in company with several of his companions against the "Britishers." The experience of the recruits was by no means exciting, however, as most of their time was passed in camp on Manhattan Island.

Returning from the war, he shortly exchanged the sword for the scythe, and marrying a few years later, settled down upon the old place to his former life of farmer and lumberman, the latter pursuit passing into desuetude, as the forests melted away.

Quietly he toiled. A family came to him, Cares increased, Busied in his daily labor, did he notice how every day the scene about him changed? How the meadows widened, how the cornfields broadened, how the farm houses grew thicker and thicker? Still he was the same. Still he lived in the house which his father had built years before, to take the place of the cabin where he was born. Still he went every day to his honest work in the good old-fashioned manner. But "the village" was changing. Store after store, house after house, was added to the little hamlet of his boyhood. New roads were built. Turnpikes brought trade and travel. Oneonta begun to be heard of. Then came the struggle for a railroad. He could remember well when a trail thro' the woods was all they wanted. Locomotives were undreamt of when he was a boy. What next? Well, the railroad came, and with it dependent industries. Then followed the marvelous growth of the last decade-all these changes within the lifetime of this one man.

Of German descent, Uncle Jeremy was short and rather slight in build, but hale and hearty to a remarkable degree. So keen was his eyesight, that up to the time of his death it was his habit to read the papers, in which occupation he took great pleasure, by the light of a candle and without the aid of spectacles. No less vigorous in mind was this hardy pioneer, than in body. His memory was most remarkable, extending to minute particulars of his early days, and ranging thence with more or less distinctness, thro' all the leading events in his after life and the history of the community in which he so long had been a landmark. Doubtless his kind heart and cheerful, easy-going disposition, had much to do in keeping hale and sound both mind and body.


A very remarkable discovery was brought to light in April, 1887, upon the well-known SLADE flats at the junction of the Charlotte with the Susquehanna, on the south side of the latter stream, at a point some two miles above the village. During a period of high water a broad current was in some way diverted from the main channel across a bench of alluvial land rising two or three feet above the general level of the neighboring bank. The field having been plowed in the fall and the soil to the depth of two feet or more consisting mainly of a fine alluvium, a gully two or three rods wide and as many feet deep, to the clay subsoil, was cut clear across the field, for some rods-to a "binnacle" or overflow putting out from the main stream at some distance below. The current does not appear to have been very swift and in consequence objects of some weight contained in the soil were left behind as the latter filtered away.

For ten days or a fortnight the flowed section was under water. When the flood subsided, Mr. SLADE and his son paid a visit to the place as to ascertain the extent of the damage, when what was their surprise to note in the bottom of the new-made channel many fragments of rude pottery mingled with flint chips, arrow and spear pints and similar remains. They gathered many, and the news of the discovery spreading, the spot was visited by many persons.

The site laid bare by the flood is unquestionably that of an aboriginal village. Altogether some two thousand fragments of pottery have been taken from a few square rods of surface exposed, together with a hundred spear and arrow points-many of them of unusual form-several flint drills, as many "sharpening stones," two small granite axes, numerous "sinkers," etc., etc. Several ancient fire places, of river cobbles bedded together, were disclosed, from one of which not less than a peck of charcoal fragments were exhumed. The pottery, several pieces of which show an exterior surface of three or four square inches, is both plain and ornamental, the latter is most intricate design. One fragment shows a human face, but straight lines variously combined and curious punctured patterns are the prevailing type. Rims and edges, being the thickest and least perishable portions, abound in the collections made. The plain pottery is remarkably hard and well preserved, and in both plain and ornamental the inside surface is in most cases of a black color in strong contrast with the brick red or chocolate hue of the exterior.

The collections made would prove of interest to the most casual observer. Whether they are the remains of a red race may be doubted. The top soil in the neighborhood abounds in ordinary Indian relics, arrow and spear points, "hammer stones," and the like- but it contains no sign of this pottery. Tradition runs, too, that there was an Indian village in the locality. But it might well have existed two feet above the level laid bare by the flood. For there is nothing to prove that the soil had before been disturbed for ages. If indeed this be the site of the Indian village, then is it to be said that here can can hardly exist that difference between the Indians and the mysterious Moundbuilders which has been commonly supposed, for the pottery obtained on the Slade flats is precisely the same with the pottery exhumed in western mounds.

It may be remarked in connection with this subject that a so- called "Indian mound" exists on WALLING's Island not for (sic) below this ancient village site; that there is another near the mouth of the Otego creek, a third at Sidney and a fourth in the Unadilla valley.

Many of the more interesting articles found on Slade's flats came into possession of Willard E. YAGER, and were added to his very extensive collection of Indian relics which was, unfortunately, lost at at the burning of the first Normal building in February, 1894.

Concerning the Indian mound on Walling's Island, above referred to, the following from the pen of Mr. Yager will be of interest:

A short distance below the point where the Charlotte creek unites with the Susquehanna, which may be two and a-half miles above the village, the river forks, a branch sweeping around close to the base of the high hills that rise to the east of Oneonta, while the main stream flows a little to the south of west, receiving the branch again at the base of a steep hill or bluff, whose wooded face, looking to the northward, is plainly visible from the village.

The very considerable area of flat land enclosed by this ramification of the river, is known as Walling's Island. At this season of year, when the stream that separates it from the mainland is in many places almost dry, the island is easily accessible.

In fall and spring, thro' the intervening channel passes a considerable body of water, which in earlier times, when the forests regulated the flow, was, they tell me, constant.

Fifty years ago this piece of ground, in common with others in this vicinity, was quite heavily wooded with beech, birch, maple and basswood, trees eighteen inches thro' being plentiful. It is now, in general, but a stretch of grassland, with an occasional butternut by way of shade, or a scraggy apple tree, the latter perhaps a relic of the pioneers.

A few acres are under plow, and a characteristic of the soil which cannot fail to strike the attention of one who visits the spot, is its remarkable freedom from stones, tho' these in all sizes abound of course in the channels that surround the little prairie. Its surface is altogether legal, save where the waters at some unusually high tide have cut here and there a cross channel, or "slang," as they are termed by farmers along the stream. As one passes from the foot of the island up-stream, traversing perhaps two-thirds its length, his progress is interrupted somewhat by one of those natural sluices, rather deeper than the average, tho' long disused and grassed over at the bottom as thickly as the banks themselves.

Just upon the edge of this ancient stream-bed rises an oblong knoll or mound, about twelve feet above the level of their field at its summit, whence the slope is regular to the base, in size perhaps forty feet by thirty. The mound is at present overgrown with bushes, low sumacs and brambles, and might not at first, perchance, excite curiosity.

Owners of the land, however, years ago, took notice of the fact that this is the only elevation of ground on the island, and examined it with considerable attention. They reached the conclusion that the mound was of artificial origin and was the work of the Indians who long ago dwelt in this region.

There is much in the appearance of the hillock to support such a theory: It is composed mainly of stones, tho' considerable soil is intermingled, perhaps from design, perhaps by the operation of natural causes; we have already alluded to the circumstances that the surrounding land is almost free from stone. Evidently the mound has existed for more than a century; for near its summit is the stump of a hardwood tree, which could not have been less than twenty inches thro' when growing, tho' now so decayed as to crumble at the touch. Its shape is very peculiar; its occurrence singly, in the midst of an unbroken level, yet more inexplicable upon any theory of natural origin.

Beyond all question the island was a great resort of the Indians. When the first soil was plowed, arrow and spear points of flint were uncovered by hundreds, and not more than three years since, in passing thro' a cornfield some distance south of the mound, the writer picked up a score or two of these interesting relics as they lay scattered between the rows of corn. It is stated, moreover, by those most familiar with the locality, that only arrow heads, stone hatchets and other remains of warlike character are to be found on the island. Naturally, then, one is disposed to believe that a battle once was fought not far from where this mound now stands, and that its material was then collected and heaped together as a monument and tomb.

A member of the family whence the island derives its name tells us, however, that he always heard it said the mound was formed, in the course of many years, in consequence of a custom among the Indians who dwelt here that each man of them passing near the spot should leave a stone there. Now it is stated by antiquarians who have studied Indian usages, that in the way described by this gentleman, the aborigines were accustomed to mark the spot where occurred heinous murders or other crimes, and perhaps therefore this curious hillock, if, as supposed, of Indian origin, but commemorates an event in their history.

No serious endeavor has ever been made to clear up the mystery, by an excavation of the mound, tho' this would be an undertaking of no very arduous character, as the stones comprising it are not of large size and the soil interspersed is loose and yielding.

It might be well for some enterprising person to take the matter in hand.

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