History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Story of Old Fort Plain and the Middle Mohawk Valley
by Nelson Greene
O'Connor Brothers Publishers, Fort Plain, NY 1915
Minden from 1720-1738-Sir George Clarke, Governor of the Province of New York, Establishes a Forest Home at Fort Plain-1750, the Reformed Church and First Store Established-1755, a Minden Tragedy of the French War.
The years immediately succeeding 1720, when German settlers first located along the Mohawk in the Canajoharie district, was a time of land clearing, building, and rude agriculture-a period similar to that experienced in the first few decades after settlement in all parts of the valley. The land was cleared, rude farming was carried on and log and stone houses and barns were built.
The first event of importance transpiring, in the Canajoharie district, was the advent of the Colonial governor of the state, Sir George Clarke, who, about 1738, built a summer lodge, on the first rise of ground from the flats almost in the center of the present village of Fort Plain.
At this time the Mohawk country was still practically an unknown forest wilderness, with the exception of the district immediately along the river, which was already cleared in spots and which was then being rapidly opened up and settled.
This Clarke place was a house of two stories, with a hall passing through the center and large square rooms on either side. The second floor was reached by a broad stairway, with white oak bannisters and easy steps of the same material. The house had a frontage of nearly forty feet and its walls were built of a slaty stone taken from the bed of the neighboring Otsquago. The steps to the front door were of slate also, but a limestone step used at one of its doors still serves its purpose. The Gov. Clarke house was, for its time, a structure of considerable pretension. It Is said to have been erected by Clarke so as to remove two sons of "fast proclivities" from their New York city associations. For a few years the Clarke family resided here in a commanding position, employing a force of slaves about the house and its plantation. At the river's bank, the governor had a good landing for his bateaux and pleasure boats. Clarke brought to his forest home several goats, then a novelty in the region, and, at one time, several of them strayed away and were lost. They were finally found on the high ground several miles southwest of Fort Plain, and this spot was afterward called Geissenberg- goat hill. The Clarke family evidently did not stay at their Mohawk valley home any great length of time and about 1742 they abandoned the place, which was probably never anything more than a summer hunting and fishing lodge. The house then acquired the reputation of being haunted and was allowed to stand empty and decay. In 1807, Dr. Joshua Webster and Jonathan Stickney, who had come into the country shortly before from New England, built a tannery across the creek from the material in this old Colonial mansion.
About 1750 George Crouse settled next north to the Clarke property and built a log house which was burned by Brant in 1780. Isaac Paris later became possessed of the Gov. Clarke place, and he sold it to George Crouse jr. The residence, occupied for many years by the late A. J. Wagner, was built on the cellar of the Clarke mansion by Col. Robert Crouse.
Sir George Clarke was acting governor of New York state from 1736 to 1743. He was at that time reckoned an adventurer by many and was in constant conflict with the Colonial state assembly. It was during his weak administration (in 1741), and at the time he was a resident of the Canajoharie district, that the famous "negro plot" excited New York city. The baronet had an underground interest in the Corry patent granted in 1737. This consisted of 25,400 acres In the present towns of Root, Glen and Charleston in Montgomery county and in Schoharie county. It is not improbable that Sir George , built his Fort Plain hunting lodge to enable him to secretly look after his "property," as it was being surveyed and laid out in plots and farms for rental at this very time.
He could not have an open interest in the patent as the English law forbade a Colonial governor being interested in grants of land made by the government. Governor Clarke returned to England in 1745 with a big fortune "mysteriously gathered," as one of his historians puts it. On his way over he was captured by a French cruiser, but was soon released. He died in Cheshire, England, in 1763, aged 84 years. His Montgomery and Schoharie property was left to his two sons, George and Edward, for whom it is said the Fort Plain house was built and who had remained in New York after their father left the country. George died childless in England and Edward died in 1744, leaving one son, George Hyde Clarke, who succeeded to the property. Corry sold his share of the patent, but it was confiscated by the state during the Revolution, on account of the Toryism of the owners. George Hyde Clarke remained in New York during the war, and, siding with the patriots, was confirmed in the large landed possessions of his father. The property descended from father to son, each succeeding owner bearing the name of George Clarke. The dissensions, incendiarism and legal warfare, incident to the breaking up of this great estate, occurred within comparatively recent years.
In 1750 the Reformed church of Canajoharie was established at Sand Hill (later Fort Plain) and about the same time William Seeber opened his store and became Minden's first trader. The settlement and development of the Minden section of the Canajoharie district, into a fertile agricultural section, was going forward rapidly at this period and that mentioned In the foregoing part of this chapter.
During the French and Indian war the districts of Palatine and Canajoharie had suffered but little, although here and there scalping parties of Indians had cut down unfortunate settlers. One of these incidents, of particularly tragic character, occurred near Fort Plain in the westerly part of the town of Minden. About 1755, the year of the beginning of hostilities, John Markell, who married Anna Timmerman, daughter of a pioneer settler of St. Johnsville, settled in the western part of the town. Markell and his wife left home one day, she carrying an infant in her arms. They had not gone far when they saw a party of a dozen hostile Indian warriors approaching in the very path they were traveling and only a few rods distant. Markell, knowing escape was impossible, exclaimed: "Anna, unser zeit ist aus!" (Anna, our time is up.) The next instant he fell, a bullet passing through his body into that of his wife. They both fell to the ground, the child dropping from the woman's arms, and she lay upon her face, feigning death. Markell was at once tomahawked and scalped. One Indian said about the woman, "Better knock her on the head." Another replied, "No, squaw's dead now!" and reaching down he drew his knife around her crown, placed his knees against her shoulders, seized her scalp with his teeth and, in an instant, it was torn from her head. One of the party snatched the crying infant from the ground by one of its legs and dashed its brains out against a tree. The savages did not stop to strip the victims and Mrs. Markell was left on the ground supposedly dead. She revived and managed to get to a neighbor's house, where she was cared for and recovered. She later married Christian Getman of Ephratah, where she died in 1821 at the age of 85 years, making her about 21 at the time of her frightful experience. Such were the perils that, at times, surrounded the settlers of the New York border, and which, twenty years later, threatened the people even under the walls of Fort Plain.
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