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Thinkin' 'Bout A Revolution

By Land ~ Sea Discovery Group Staff

Since 1972 I've been experiencing all the wonders of the great western states, especially California. I've researched the lost mines, stage stations, and the shipwrecks of the Pacific coast. For at least 10 of
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Middleburgh, a quiet little town in upstate New York.
those years I got involved in collectibles and relics. It's amazing how you can get caught up in the world around you and almost forget your roots.

It was just last week that I was listening to a fellow treasure hunter tell me about a trip back home to where he grew up in Virginia near a Civil War battle site. His story was filled with finds of belt buckles, bayonets, and shell casings. What a thrill it was for him to tell his story, but as I listened visions of my past crept into view of my own home town. I was thinkin' 'bout a revolution.

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Yorkers pin circa 1967
I was raised in a quiet little town in upstate New York called Middleburgh. When I was in the eight grade I remember belonging to a historical awareness group called the Yorkers that studied and took field trips to historical sites in the state of New York. This town I grew up in was a treasure trove of history.

The area was first settled in the year 1712 and the nearby village became known as Weiserdorf, named for a German Palatine settler named John Conrad Weiser. Weiserdorf was the first white settlement in the Schoharie River Valley. The German Palatines believed the land to be theirs by grant from Queen Anne but had made the mistake of not getting it in writing. An earlier Dutch settler named Adam Vrooman bought the land in 1712 from the Schoharie Indians and had in his hands a signed deed to prove it. It originally deeded to him 600 of the finest, most fertile, flatlands on the Schoharie river flood plain. Weiser and state leaders could not dispute the papers signed by eighteen members of the Turtle, Wolf, and Bear clans.

Included in the parcel of land was the mountain that jutted out of the valley floor that the Indians called Onistagrawa. (Corn Mountain) This mountain which stands like a sky island above the fertile farmlands below, has kept a watchful eye over man in this region for hundreds of years. It has seen Paleo Indians settle in after the last ice age glacier ripped its way through the valley leaving striation marks on the mountains cap. It quietly watched as the German Palatines and the Dutch settlers had their squabbles, and finally settled down to farm the fine lands at its base. The mountain became known as Vroomans Nose after its first land owner.

The area enjoyed peace and quiet for nearly fifty years. Then the American fight for its independence would take place and beyond the shadows of Vroomans Nose the Germans and Dutch settlers farmed the lands together providing grain for the American troops of the revolution. The valley became known as the "Breadbasket of the Revolution."

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The old Middle Fort.
Middleburgh N.Y.
It wasn't long before the British realized the importance of this farming community and started terrorizing the entire valley with viscous raids led by the British but accompanied by Tories and Indians. The settlers established three forts for their protection. The Upper Fort was in the present day town of Fultonham. The Middle Fort was just outside the town of Weiserdorf and the Lower Fort was in the town of Schoharie. Research shows that often forts were built around a solid stone structure such as a church. Stockade walls were put up, trenches dug, and cannons mounted.

A system of signals was set up so the farmers could get behind the walls of the fort before being attacked. Often times this system failed as it did when in 1780 under the ever-watching eye of Vroomans
Nose, a group of eighty British, Tories, and Indians led by Chief Joseph Brant made it into the valley before being sited. They killed most of the Vrooman family, men, woman, and children. They burned crops, killed livestock, and captured horses. They left in their wake a sea of devastation and scalped settlers. Later in another battle at the Middle Fort, sometimes called Fort Defiance, 1000 or so British and Indians, again accompanied by Joseph Brant, were turned back by a group of 200 colonial soldiers and 150 militia led by Peter Vrooman and local hero Timothy Murphy.

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Old Stone Church Fortress now a Museum, Schoharie, N.Y. Built 1772

Both the Upper and Middle Forts are now farm fields each producing arrowheads and musket balls along with yearly crops. The Lower Fort in Schoharie was built around the Old Stone Church and it still stands, surrounded by a cemetery filled with the fallen heroes of the Revolutionary War. An interesting item I discovered while researching this church is that in 1889 it became the home of the Schoharie County Historical Society and museum, a time when most towns on the west coast were just beginning. The museum houses a vast collection of Revolutionary War items in addition to many other artifacts of the time. It also houses America’s first fire engine.

In the early part of the 19th century Weiserdorf had its name changed to Middleburgh being named after the Dutch city in Holland called Middelburg. The town continues to be a small, picturesque, farming village.

Many of the local residents carry the names of the towns' founders and Revolutionary War heroes. Some houses in the vicinity date back to the 18th century, and hundreds are from the early 19th century. Aside from Revolutionary War battlefields to detect the area abounds in old home sites that one merely needs to ask permission to search. Farm fields and gardens have turned up old clay pipes, musket balls and pewter buttons.

On a recent scouting and information gathering trip I checked to see if a few of the old places I remembered were still there. One was an old one-room schoolhouse that we sometimes held our Boy
Scout meetings at. It was still there but freshly painted. The grounds looked the same as they did then right down to the old two seater out back.

One of the farmhouses I used to visit when I was young had burned down and the barn had caved in. The entire place was overgrown with brush and from the dirt road it was on you could not possibly know it was there if you hadn't seen it for yourself. I'm trying to reach the owner of the property now for permission to search. This farmhouse was built in the 1870's.

On the property my parents owned in the 1960's is an old Dutch mill site that we were told was built in the early 1700's. In the 1940's it was used as a dumpsite for a while. I found an old Ford along side bottles and cans from this era.

Close by is the Blenheim Bridge which has the distinction of being the longest single span, wooden, covered bridge, in the world. It was built in 1855 and spans 231 feet. People crossing the bridge were charged a fee of one cent if they were walking and 12 cents if in a horse drawn vehicle. People often socialized on either side of the bridge making it a prime target for old coins.

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Old Blenheim Bridge.
Another spot that was brought up is Lasell Hall in Schoharie. I'm told that it was built in 1795 as an inn. In the early 1800's its lawns held the town gallows. People from all over the county frequented hangings in those days. It was an event that brought whole families in horse and buggy with picnic baskets to conjugate on the lawns.

I also find myself drawn to an area on top of Vroomans Nose called the "Dance Floor." The "Dance Floor” is the smooth flat surface of the mountain that was polished smooth by the crossing of the ice age glacier. What attracted me is the name and the fact that in the floor of the rock are carved the names and dates of the early settlers. Legend has it that early settlers actually held dances on top of the mountain.

Well, as you can see while I was thinking about a Revolutionary War site originally, my eyes were opened up to a whole other world of treasures to investigate. I hope my readers if they visit this area go into it with the respect that it so deserves. Don't forget to get permission to work the sites and check all the laws of the state of New York before you remove anything.


SOURCE DOCUMENTATION:

1. Jean Webb Williams, Shunpiking In Old Schoharie, Shunpiking Associates, 1980.
2. Vincent J. Schaefer, Vroomans Nose, Purple Mountain Press, 1992.
3. The author lived here from 1958 to 1968.

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