The Lost Settlement of Schohary Kill, Part II

In 1995, I was new to the Pratt Museum. I’d just landed the job as the Museum’s Director-Curator and was looking forward to learning as much as I could about Prattsville’s history. Walking Main Street from Pratt Rock to the former Laraway Inn (currently the O’Hara home), I didn’t give much thought to Maple Lane. It seemed to me to be a quiet rural spur of a once-bustling typical 19th century town. No such thing.
What led me to believe that Maple Lane was merely a sleepy extension of the Town that Pratt Built was the location of the Reformed Dutch Church, which congregation members proudly told me was the oldest church on Greene County’s “Mountain Top;” the other is that someone who knew far more than I did about local history at that time had informed me that the location of the Church, together with the fact that an early grist mill once stood across the road from it, seemed to indicate that this had been the center of Town when Pratt arrived in Prattsville in 1824. At that time, I had no reason not to believe him. After all, the Laraway Inn, was built in 1785, a mere nine years after the American Revolution, by John and Martinus Laraway.
Around that time, a man named Bell built the first tannery in the area, locating it close to Devasego Falls, a popular summer vacation spot in the 19th century that was eventually flooded over by the City of New York in 1928 to make way for the Schoharie Reservoir. Charles Smedberg, a native of Sweden, purchased Bell’s tannery and ran it until 1823, when it was destroyed by a fire, alleged to have been started by Bell, who disappeared from the area, coattails fluttering, shortly after that. Gossip held that Bell was a pirate, who, upon leaving the area, was captured and hung near Philadelphia. Smedberg, on the other hand, built a second tannery on the ashes of the first, but it was not to be. Smedberg’s second tannery also was destroyed by fire, at which time, the unlucky Swede decided to return to farming.
Seizing the opportunity left by Smedberg’s misfortune, Colonel Zadock Pratt built what would become the world’s largest tannery on the banks of the Schoharie Kill in 1825. This tannery was 550 feet long, and 43 feet wide, with 300 vats, conductors under the vats, and 12 leaches, with six heaters, together with three hide-mills, and ball and press pumps. In 1839, a flood seriously damaged the tannery, which Pratt eventually closed for good in 1845. What’s most intriguing about this turn of events is the introduction of “Schoharie Kill” into our story.
Being desirous of settling emigrants in America, England’s Queen Anne, anxious to settle the New World with certain of her subjects, sent her agent to America to purchase land, which he did; about 20,000 acres in the Schoharie valley. Soon after, Queen Anne had a ship fitted out and filled with German emigrants, started from a German port early in January 1710. After a long and difficult voyage, the ship reached the mouth of the Hudson River, June 14th 1712, after two and a half years at sea. Many of the ship’s passengers had died during the Atlantic voyage. Those who remained traveled up the Hudson River to Saugerties, where they put down anchor for the winter. Early in the spring they sailed to Albany, Here some enlisted in the British army while the rest, guided by an Indian trail, walked to Schoharie and settled along the Schoharie Kill, Several months passed and the Queen’s agent was sent to the settlers to offer them the protection of the laws and give them undisputed title to the land they now occupied. Wary of strangers and fearing oppression and taxation, the emigrants resisted his offers after arming themselves with guns, clubs, pitchforks, etc., sought to do him violence. The agent escaped and the land was eventually sold to a private company. The memory of this transaction, together with the punishment of its ringleaders, created ill will in the minds of those who decided to move east.
Eventually, descendants of the Schoharie settlers pitched camp on the flats at what-is-now-called Prattsville. During the War of Independence [Revolutionary War], a band of Tories and Indians, led by a British Officer known only as Captain Smith, attacked the tiny settlement. The settlers fought back valiantly and eventually Captain Smith was killed and buried where he fell, on the bank of the Schoharie, opposite the old battle ground. In time, Smith’s bones were washed away by one of the region’s frequent floods, where, we’re told, an unnamed African-American gathered them together and buried them in a safer place. This skirmish took place north of the village and a short distance below the iron bridge. John Laraway and sons, John, Jonas, Derrick, and Martinus; Isaac Van Alstyne; Van Loan, brothers; Henry Becker, and the Shoemaker family were some of the pioneers who fought and won this small struggle against the Crown.
If you think I’ve forgotten about Prattsville’s picturesque Maple Lane by now, I haven’t. More on that in a few.

2 thoughts on “The Lost Settlement of Schohary Kill, Part II

  1. Patricia Morrow

    Please read a scholarly work on this subject, such as “Early Eighteenth Century Palatine Emigration” by Walter Allen Knittle. The Palatines did not spend over 2 years at sea. In the spring of 1710 some 3,000 Palatines sailed from London in ten ships. They arrived in New York in June 1710. Eventually they settled in East Camp (now Germantown in Columbia County) and West Camp in Ulster County, where they were to produce pine pitch tar for the British naval stores.

  2. vlymountain

    Not sure about scholarly work on the subject, Pat. I’ve gotten all my information from Prattsville old timers and first person accounts of life and settlement of Greene, Delaware and Schohary counties. What I like about history is that it’s almost impossible to know the “Truth” so I’m just putting down what I’ve learned from the people of Prattsville, Grand Gorge, Roxbury, Stamford, Harpersfield and other parts around and the histories that were written shortly after settlement. A little bit of narrative thrown in to piece it altogether but no intended fiction. By the way, do you know anything about the German Palatines who came to Prattsville via Middleburgh, Schoharie County? If so, I’m sure our readers would appreciate hearing from you.

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