Saturday, August 13, 2016

   It Happened Here -- A Man of "Public Usefulness"
 and "Private Worth"

The headstone of Jedediah Peck displays the epitaph, "The annals of the State bear record of his public usefulness, and the recollection of virtues bear testimony of his private worth."

Jedediah Peck was born on a family farm in 1748 in Lyme Connecticut and learned to read and write from his mother and during brief attendance to a local common school when he was a child. He went to sea in his late teens or early twenties, returning in 1771 to discover both parents and two brothers and a sister had died in his absence.   Deeply depressed, Peck threw himself into the study and memorization of large parts of the bible, becoming an eloquent, if unpolished, writer, orator, and unaffiliated evangelical preacher. He enlisting for four years in the Continental Army, and in 1790 he moved to Burlington, New York, in Otsego County.  Peck's outspokenness  soon brought him to the attention of Judge William Cooper, founder of Cooperstown and a major landowner/developer in Otsego. Peck became the first Town Supervisor of Burlington and soon after, Cooper supported his appointment as an associate Judge in the Court of Common Pleas of Otsego County.  (In the early days of the Republic, formal legal training counted for less than confidence that the men who were candidates for judge-ships possessed good morals, intelligence, and abundant common sense.)

NYS 80, west of Salamacha Rd., Burlington
While the American Revolution had been a triumph for democracy, the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation pointed to the need for greater centralization and power in a national government that would be outlined by the Constitution. Those supporting this movement became known as Federalists. Both Cooper and Peck saw themselves as Federalists, but over time, this would change for Peck.

A continuing  legacy of British rule was the notion that the higher offices of government should be dominated by "gentlemen," men of "good breeding" whose manners, successful accumulation of wealth,  formal educations, and connections to other "gentlemen" would guarantee they would be good and judicious rulers. The common man's roll in this was to choose between "gentlemen", then defer to their "superior judgment" once they were in office.  Federalists, by in large, supported this contention, and some federalists, like William Cooper struggled mightily to aspire to the ranks of "gentlemen."

Between River & Prospect Sts., Rte 20, Richfield Sprs.*
Elected to the State Assembly in 1798, Peck found himself at increasing odds with the Federalists and his mentor, William Cooper. As attacks from the "gentleman" legislators, who looked down Peck as a common man, (small farmer, carpenter, surveyor, millwright and preacher) multiplied, Peck increasingly cast himself as the friend of the common man. Unlike his gentlemanly enemies who pretended to be aloof from the "degrading business" of electioneering, Peck actively campaigned for public office. Instead of campaigning through a host of surrogates, Peck campaigned in person and door to door--activities that dovetailed nicely with his profession/calling as an evangelical preacher.  Instead of promoting himself as an honorable gentleman in whose hands the electorate could responsibly leave matters of governance, Peck advocated specific issues and positions he would promote as a legislator that would favor the farmer and the tradesman.  Instead of writing private letters to surrogates, coyly revealing the gentleman-candidate's character and dispositions, meant to be shared by his surrogates to members of the public,  Peck boldly wrote letters and position papers and published them in local papers. Through them he attempted to portray himself not as a "father" to his constituents as Cooper did, but as a "servant" of the people.  Proudly acknowledging his roots, he signed many of them, "the Plough-Jogger.**" Jedediah Peck became one of a new group of politicians, practicing a new kind of politics, that would sweep into power in the 1790's, and become known as the Democratic-Republicans.

In 1798 as the revolutionary government in France became more radical and aggressive toward other nations and it appeared that the United States was drifting into an undeclared war with Jacobin France, the Federalists worried that political dissension would hamper the Country's efforts to defend itself.  Congress passed the Sedition Act of 1798. Following its passage many critical newspapers were forcibly closed and several outspoken critics of the Adams presidency were arrested.  Jedediah Peck reacted by writing and circulating a petition calling for Congress to repeal the law.  Judge Cooper had him arrested under the act and he was brought to to New York City (then capital of N.Y.) for trial. The five day spectacle of this small, humble and aging man being brought in chains for attempting to petition his government helped galvanized opposition to the law and helped sweep Thomas Jefferson into power. Peck was released, and the law was allowed to expire in 1800.

Burgeoning success!  Rte 443, Berne at High School
Peck was a member of the New York assembly from 1798 to 1804 and the New York State Senate from 1804 to 1808. He sponsored bills to divide the state into election districts to facilitate the election of state Senators by the people, rather than by the legislature, and for the popular election of presidential electors. Ahead of their time, the measures died in the Senate. Another bill to do away with debtors prison for those who fell behind in their debts, except in cases of fraud was successful. But Peck's most important legacy was legislation that established the common school system. Peck declared-- 'Knowledge in the people is absolutely necessary to support Representative Government, but ignorance in them overthrows it.'  Putting forth unsuccessful bills in 1800, 1803 and 1804 it would not be until 1811, after Peck retired, that Governor Daniel Tompkins asked the Burlington farmer to head a commission to draft a law to facilitate public education. The Public Education Act of 1812 divided each township in New York into school districts and established a public fund to support each school district based on population, requiring local governments to match state monies. Local school boards would hire teachers and create facilities. It became his proudest achievement.  A year and a half before he died, the 72 year old "Plough-jogger" asked a new friend, and up-and-coming politician, Martin Van Buren, about the health of his state education fund and it effectiveness.

*This NYSHM paraphrases a quote of Levi Beardsley, Reminiscences; Personal and other Incidents; Early Settlement of Otsego County. (New York, 1852)
**A plough-jogger was a farmer who walked behind his plow, wrestling it to the left or right to avoid rocks and to keep it plowing a straight furrow.

Sources: Taylor, Alan.  William Cooper's Town:  Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic.
                         New York, 1995
               Wilder, Throop.  "Jedidiah Peck, Statesman, Soldier, Preacher." New York History,  vol. 22, no. 3, July 1941. 
                         pp. 290-300.

Marker of the Week --   Dependent on the Kindness of Strangers  

Many, if not most NYSHMs were erected 40 to 80+ years ago so many, if not all, the people who researched them, planned them, fund raised and erected them have passed on or at least are no longer active members of their communities, so when an accident or act of vandalism happens to these markers there is often no ready community to see that they are replaced/restored. Instead, they are dependent on the "kindness of strangers." Recently (7/28/16)  I passed the Leesville NYSHM whose picture I had taken on 7 /27/13.  Sadly,  it had suffered the fate of so many other NYSHMs. Hopefully it will find a community of strangers willing and able to restore it.                                                                    

Sunday, August 7, 2016

It Happened Here--Lost Towns of the Revolution

Wars almost inevitably result in the disruption of lives, the destruction of towns and the mass displacement of peoples.  The American Revolution was no exception and nowhere was this disruption, destruction, and  displacement greater than on the frontier of  revolutionary New York and in Iroquoia.

 Early in the war the Iroquois maintained an uneasy neutrality toward what they viewed first as a "war between brothers"; but as the stakes and tempo of the war escalated in the summer of 1777 with the Burgoyne invasion of New York, the Iroquois nations succumbed to the blandishments of the King's and Rebel Indian agents.  Seneca and Mohawk forces became major combatants in an ambush of a rebel relief expedition headed toward Fort Stanwix, while a large contingent of Oneida warriors  accompanied General Herkimer's rebel force and became embroiled in the vicious fire fight that became known as the battle of Oriskany.

The following spring Mohawk Joseph Brant led the first small raids against the farming communities of Manheim and Ephrata in western Tryon county. Homes and farms were burned and a dozen captives were spirited away. From this, a pattern would develop in which  Tory raiders and their Indian allies would raid frontier farming communities, destroying farms and crops destined to feed Continental Armies, terrorizing the inhabitants to drive them in from the frontier, and obtaining a supply of captives that could provide leverage in dealings with the Rebel governments.  (As the war progressed, large numbers of prominent Tory sympathizers were rounded up and imprisoned, as well as an entire British army captured at Saratoga. Obtaining their release would become a major priority for the Crown.)

The summer of 1778 saw a raid in Cobleskill and farms burned in Broadalbin. On June 18th and
19th, Joseph Brant destroyed the villages of Springfield,  and Andrustown. Tory leader John Butler staged a major raid against the settlements in the Wyoming valley of Pennsylvania  on July 3d.  In September, Brant and (son) Walter Butler devastated the prosperous town of German Flatts, on the Mohawk. Sixty three houses, fifty nine barns and three grist mills were burned. Two hundred and thirty five horses, and ninety three oxen, two hundred and twenty nine "horned cattle", two hundred and seventy nine sheep were taken or killed.  Though the property loss was significant, only two lives were lost, thanks to the warning provided by scout John Adam Helmer that enabled the population of German Flatts to shelter in Forts Herkimer . (see my post of 3/24/13)  Though they were destitute,  the population was spared, and they began rebuilding almost immediately;  the following year planting resumed.

Andrustown Monument, Co. Rte 167, North of Jordanville

For Springfield and Andrustown reestablishment was less  certain. Springfield struggled on for years, becoming firmly re-established only with the arrival of the Great Western Turnpike (now U.S. 20) chartered in 1799.

Andrustown, in the rolling hills, eight miles south of German Flatts was settled by seven families of German Palatines. Its name, if you credit traditional sources, resulted from the corruption/distortion of its original name Hendersontown, named for its original patentee, a British Army surgeon named Henderson.  Several residents of the hamlet had fought in the battle of Oriskany.  After the battle, the seven families moved to the relative safety of German Flatts, but they continued to work their farms, going up from the Flatts, sometimes with armed escorts. Joseph Brant, his Indians and a force of Tories struck on a day when a group of farmers and their families were unescorted.  At least nine settlers were killed, including five who headed households and two women. Most were scalped. At the Bell farm, Frederick Bell Sr. was shot by an Indian through a window as he reached for his musket where it was hung on the rafters, while his son Frederick Bell Jr. was shot as he ran to catch a horse. His grandson, Frederick Bell III, age 8, was carried into captivity, where he was adopted by an Indian family. Ten years later he was returned to his surviving family, but by then had become so acculturated that he had great difficulty adapting to "civilized" life. He was said to have died at an early age from "melancholy".  Every house, barn and out-building was burned.  The lands continued to be farmed by the survivors and their descendants,  but Andrustown was never rebuilt, and passed into history.

Hicks Rd. (112) off of Co.Rte.167, cor. of Williams Rd., North

South of Paul Crim House,  Willams Rd., N.

 The Indian/Tory raids of the spring/summer of 1778 led to a retaliatory raid on two towns on the Susquehanna river, in what became south/central New York. Unadilla was a frontier town mostly populated by white settlers who held Loyalist sentiments. Ouaquaga (Onaquaga)* was an Indian town occupied by a mix of Indian peoples. Originally settled by Oneida Indians, it became home to Tuscarora, Shawnee, Mahican and Delaware peoples but was dominated by Mohawks. No primitive hamlet of mere bark wigwams and long houses, Ouaquaga was a town of 700, stretching across the Susquehanna.  American Lt. Col. William Butler declared Onaquaga, 'the finest Indian town I  ever saw' with more than forty 'good houses' of hewn logs, good floors, shingled roofs, stone chimneys, and "improvements" like those in European frontier settlements, along both shores.

                    This cabin, Mary Jemison "White Woman of the Senecas",
                         (Letchworth State Park) built for her daughter, ca 1800.
                        The Ouaquaga houses must have looked much like this.

 In the spring of 1777 Joseph Brant had settled his volunteer corp of Tories and Indians into Ouaquaga to establish it as a base for supply and recruitment.  In the end of May 1777 Brant, with seventy five of his men moved on Unadilla issuing an ultimatum to the inhabitants. They could either stay and declare their loyalty 
to the Crown and "volunteer " any supplies his troop required or they must go within eight days, taking with them only the provisions they could carry.  At the end of the eight days Brant's men ransacked the properties of those who had fled, and burned their buildings to the ground. 

Brant's Volunteers continued to use these towns as a base of operations until after their devastating raid on German Flatts.  With pressure building on General Washington to strike back, he ordered Lt. Col. William Butler of the 4th Pennsylvania Continental Regiment, garrisoned in the forts along the Schoharie Valley to attack the towns in October.  Indian scouts prevented  surprise and the towns' populations fled but Joseph Brant's forces, out on the warpath, were unaware of the attack until they returned to find their towns, their houses, mills, barns and store houses in ashes. The next year General James Clinton followed up with another attack that destroyed the buildings missed in the previous raid, and the buildings being rebuilt.

In the years following the Revolution Unadilla re-emerged as a town.  Some patriot families returned.  Newcomers arrived, and as nearly everywhere across New York, Tory properties were condemned by local governments to be resold or auctioned off.  Good farmland, and a strategic position on a small but important waterway, the Susquehanna,  favored Unadilla's survival. 

A NYSHM in Mayfield, Fulton Co. refers to a local commission for condemning Tory owned property and reselling it.

Riceville Rd., Mayfield

Ouaquaga, however, would not. After the war, many Indian families were reluctant to try to return to an area that was becoming populated by their former enemies, and where they knew they would not be welcomed.  But unlike former Tories, Indian peoples were legally considered sovereign, and could not be condemned as traitors and subject to forfeiture of their lands. So until treaties were negotiated and New York could arrange to buy the titles for their land, then sell it to land speculators (land wholesalers) who would in turn sell it to individual farmers--Ouaquaga languished  in a state of semi-abandoned limbo. Eventually the lands around Ouaquaga passed into the hands of individual farmers, and three settlements that developed became collectively  known as "Old Oquaga" but virtually all traces of the village and its former inhabitants had vanished. A state kiosk details the history of the area, but on a local NYSHM  created to mark an historic bridge, the Ouaquaga Bridge, the Indian town is mentioned only as an "Iroquois camp".

Doolittle Rd. south of
Rt. 79. south of Harpursville.
Broome County 

The fate of Ouaquaga was a fate shared by many Indian towns across the heart of Iroquoia. The month after the burning of Ouaquaga and Unadilla, Brant and Walter Butler retaliated by a brutal attack on Cherry Valley resulting in widespread destruction and the deaths of over thirty civilians. Over the winter George Washington and his generals would plan a massive invasion of Iroquoia that Washington hoped would knock  Britain's Iroquois allies out of the war or at least severely cripple them and force them into dependency on the British. The two armies of John Sullivan and James Clinton would meet at Tioga between the Chemung and Susquehanna rivers.  Their combined force of over 3000 would range north through Iroquoia sweeping all before it, burning every town and mill, orchard and field crop it came to. In less than two months over forty Indian villages were destroyed. Most would never be rebuilt, or re-inhabited.

By the mid 18th century, the largest, most powerful Iroquois people were the Seneca. One of their largest, most politically important Seneca towns was Kanadesega, also known as Seneca Castle.  Over forty well-built houses were surrounded by corn fields and orchards along the Kanadesega creek, a short distance from the foot of Seneca Lake, in the Finger Lakes. The British had fortified the town during the French and Indian War, and British agents made frequent visits to the town. Home to Sayenqueraghta, the second most influential war chief, after Joseph Brant, Kanadesega became a forward base for Maj. John Butler and his Rangers. After the Onondaga towns were destroyed, the Iroquois council fire, symbol of Iroquois unity, was moved to Kanadesaga. 

As the Sullivan/Clinton expedition approached Kanadesega in the first week of September 1779,  Indian and Tory forces in the town debated whether or not to make a stand at the town.  As Sullivan's Continental troops began to deploy around the town it became apparent to all of their overwhelming strength. When the Continental army entered the town they found their enemy had fled. Kanadesega, like so many Iroquois towns before it, was burned to the ground.

In 1788 a treaty transferred ownership of lands between Seneca Lake and the Genesee River from the Senecas to a partnership of Massachusetts investors (Phelps and Gorham). The properties passed through several hands and gradually the village of Geneva developed on the shore of Seneca Lake, eventually absorbing the abandoned Kanadesega.

From time to time groups and individuals in the 20th century remembered the town and left markers and monuments (including this NYSHM) to commemorate its existence. But, for the most part, the remains of Kanadesega slumber unnoticed underneath the cornfields, suburban housing, shopping malls, storage lockers and convenience store parking lots of suburban Geneva.

                             (All)   Co. Rte 4, near Preemption Rd, Geneva (Note the stone marker, behind the dumpster.)

*Because of the diversity of dialects of its inhabitants and because the Indian peoples living there had no written languages of their own, the town became known by a wildly confusing number of variants. According to Wikipedia, Ouaquaga was called Oneaquaga, Oughquagy, Onoaughquagey, Ononghquage, Auquauga, Anaquaga, Oughquogey, Anaquegha, Onaquaga, Aughquagee, Ochquaga, Aughquagey, Oquaca, Oguaga, Anaquaqua, Oquage, and Okwaha. Washington called the town Anaquaga.  Brant himself, called it Oghuago, and later Oghwage!

Marker of the Week --                                  

NY 414, near Hector
For a while the New York Highway Department, predecessor of the DOT,  joined in the enthusiasm for identifying historical sites with signs. Copies of this marker appeared in several locations, along with a couple other historical themed signs along other State roads.  Not to nit-pick, but it might seem that the Highway Dept. might have benefited from consulting an historian. Three years after the Declaration of Independence declared "That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States" many in Sullivan's army might have taken issue with their bodies politic being still called "colonies".  And while we are at it, since the Oneida Nation became and remained a faithful ally of the American rebels, it is hardly precise to speak of "War with the Six Nations".