Schenectady was the northwesternmost settlement of New Netherland. It has a rich and long history and is home to one of the best-preserved old Dutch neighborhoods in former New Netherland.
In 1661, Beverwijck (current day Albany) resident Arendt van Curler purchased a plot of land from the Mohawk Nation on the south side of the Mohawk River. A year after he acquired the land, Van Curler brought a group of fifteen families with him to found the village of Schenectady.
The area was wild frontier land, and for the safety of the villagers a stockade (defensive wall of tree trunks) was built around the core of the village. The Dutch settlers were on good terms with the local Mohawk Nation, with whom they had a mutually lucrative trading relation. But there was danger from the French to the north and their Huron and Algonquin allies, who had been pitted against the Mohawk fighting the so-called Beaver Wars for decades.
A crowning achievement was the official establishment of a Reformed Church in the town sometime in the 1670s. The exact date is unknown, and the church itself, which is still flourishing as a congregation, albeit in its sixth building since its founding, has designated 1680 as the date it was organized, simply because that is where the extant list of elders and deacons begins.
In 1690, during King William’s War between France and England, in retribution for the sacking of the town of Lachine in New France by Mohawk warriors, an alliance of French and Algonquin fighters descended on Schenectady. They found the gate to the stockade unguarded and ajar. They entered the village, burnt it to the ground and killed sixty of its inhabitants. Another twenty-seven were taken captive. Some of them were rescued by a Mohawk called Lawrence, who pursued the raiders on their way back to Montreal with the prisoners.
The city was rebuilt within the boundaries of the old stockade. Many houses were built in the Dutch colonial style, and the city retained a distinct Dutch character, with most of its population of Dutch and mixed Dutch-Mohawk heritage until at least the late 1700s.
When the Reformed Church celebrated its bicentenary in 1880, a service was held in Dutch. In a report on the proceedings, contemporary historian Jonathan Pearson wrote: ‘There were probably as many as one hundred in the audience, mostly elderly people, who understood most of the once familiar language of the church and city.’
After the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 and an influx of New Englanders and other newcomers, Schenectady became an industrial city. Although many of its inhabitants can still trace their ancestry back to the original Dutch settlers, the city itself became thoroughly Americanized.
Schenectady’s Stockade District still essentially covers the same area as the original stockade of the 17th century. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, and the National Park Service has described it as having ‘the highest concentration of historic period homes in the country’.
Read more about Schenectady and its history in Issue 64 of Dutch the magazine or in Hiding in Plain Sight by Tom Bijvoet.
To receive information about the Netherlands, the Dutch, and the Dutch diaspora, on a regular basis, subscribe to Dutch the magazine!
Original article by: Tom Bijvoet