Arthur H. (Arthur Haynesworth) Masten.

The history of Cohoes, New York [electronic resource] from its earliest settlement to the present time online

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Online LibraryArthur H. (Arthur Haynesworth) MastenThe history of Cohoes, New York [electronic resource] from its earliest settlement to the present time → online text (page 1 of 30)
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, Arfhur








The preparation of a sketch of the history of Cohoes
was commenced by the writer at the request of the
Hon. D. J. Johnston, mayor of the city, made in ac
cordance with a proclamation issued by the president,
calling attention to the following resolution passed by
Congress, May 13, 1876 :

"It is hereby recommended to the people of the
several states that they assemble in their several coun
ties or towns on the approaching Centennial Anniver
sary of our National Independence, and that they cause
to have delivered on such day an historical sketch of
said county or town from its formation, and that a
copy of said sketch be filed, in print or manuscript,
in the clerk s office of said county, and an additional
copy, in print or manuscript, be filed in the office of
the librarian of congress, to the intent that a complete
record may thus be obtained of the progress of our
institutions during the first centennial of their ex

The understanding was that the sketch should be
published in one of the city papers in case it was not
completed by July 4th. It was found, however, after


sonic progress had been made, that if limited to the
length suitable for production in the manner proposed,
the history would in many particulars be incomplete
and unsatisfactory, and it was accordingly decided to
enlarge it to the form in which it now appears.

As the manufacturing interests of Cohoes have
always been its most important feature, their history
forms in a great measure that of the place and con
sequently occupies a large share of the following pages.

An effort has been made to relate in addition the
principal facts in the early history of this locality, and
to describe the general progress of the place since the
first steps were taken, fifty years ago, towards the
development of its resources, giving accounts of its
various institutions and of the most important local

Great care has been taken to insure accuracy in all re
spects especially in regard to names and dates, though
in a work of this sort, abounding in details, it is of
course impossible to avoid a certain number of errors.
Whenever it has been necessary to depend for data
upon the memory of individuals, the information thus
obtained has been verified, if possible, by a comparison
of the versions given by different persons, and by
reference to such records as are in existence. Ex
cept in the case of chapters I and VIII, an arrange
ment of facts in their chronological order rather than
according to subject has been adopted, in the belief


that a better idea would thus be afforded of the gene
ral growth and progress of the place. Although this
method makes the narrative at times disconnected, it
appears preferable on the whole, since its disadvan
tages have been obviated as far as possible by foot notes
and the full index at the close of the volume.

The materials used in the preparation of the book,
aside from those obtained from private sources, have
been for the greater part furnished by the files of the
Cohoes Cataract, Cohoes Daily News, Troy Times, and
Troy Press. Many facts have also been taken from
the valuable publications of Mr. Joel Munsell concern
ing the history of Albany.

The writer would here express his obligations to
the many friends who have assisted him in his labors,
particularly to his father, James H. Masten, to whom
he is indebted for constant aid and advice. Among
others to whom acknowledgments are especially due
may be mentioned Messrs. Joshua R. Clarke, Lucien
Fitts, Henry D. Fuller and Nicholas En Earl of Cohoes ;
Miss E. Howe and Mr. Isaac I. Fonda of Waterford ;
Mr. Timothy Bailey of Ballston ; Mr. Evert Van Der
Mark of Lansingburg, Mr. Oliver C. Hubbard of
West Troy and Mr. Chas. A. Olmsted of Lockport,
N. Y., who have furnished much valuable information
which could not otherwise have been obtained.

The writer is also indebted to Messrs. T. Gr. Young-
love, D. J. Johnston and Harvey Clute of Cohoes; Mrs.


Hugh White of Waterford, Mr. A. A. Peebles of
Lansingburg, and Mr. Charles Van Zandt of the Van
Rensselaer office, Albany, for access to important docu
ments, and to Mr. A. J. Weise of Troy for the use of
the cut of the Van Schaick House and other favors.

Cohoes, December, 1876.



is well known that the word CoJioes is of Indian
origin, and has been the designation (with varied orthogra
phy) of this locality from the earliest times. Its exact
derivation and meaning, however, have not been agreed
upon. The different versions of Indian legends all have as
their most prominent feature, a canoe carried over the Falls
by the current, and this fact has furnished the derivation
generally accepted. The signification "a canoe falling"
has been given by almost every writer on the subject since
Spafford, who wrote in 1813 : " The name is of indiginal
origin, and like the most such, has an appropriate allusion.
Cah-hoos or Ca-hoos, a canoe falling, as explained by the
late learned Indian sachem, Brandt, of illustrious memory."
In Morgan s League of the Ho-de-sau-nee or Iroquois is a
list of the settlements in the different territories, and under
the head of Ga-ne-a-ga-o-no-ga or Mohawk territory, the
author gives " Cohoes Falls: In Mohawk dialect Ga-ha-
oose, meaning the ship-wrecked canoe." Many persons, on
the contrary, whose knowledge of the Indian dialects en
titles their opinion to respect, give another interpretation to
the word, which is stated as follows in an article published
in the Schenectady Reflector, in 1857 : " The term in ques
tion is in the Mohegan language ; its signification we cannot
express without circumlocution, unless we use the word
pitch or plunge, or coin a new substantive, overshoot. The


Canadian Indians designate by the name cahoos those un
pleasant hollows which occur in roads covered with snow,
and which sleigh riders vulgarly call pitch holes or more
commonly cradle holes" This derivation seems perhaps the
more reasonable, though the other has the sanction of long
use and general acceptance. Whatever the meaning of the
word, it is certain that the name of our city had its origin
in something connected with the Falls. This being so, and
since the town has always been more or less associated with
the Falls in the public mind, it may not be amiss to give in
this sketch some of the earliest references to them.

Though the history of Cohoes as a town of importance
commenced barely half a century ago, the spot on which
the city stands was well known both abroad and in this
country at a very early day. The natural beauties of the
locality brought here many of the travelers who visited
America in the 17th and 18th centuries. Albany, then one
of the most important cities in the country, was one of the
first places visited by foreigners, and as the Falls were
among the most accessible objects of interest to persons
staying there, we find accounts, or at all events mention of
them, in a large number of the books of American travel.

Allusions to the Falls are also frequent in the English
and French documentary history of the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries, having reference generally to the navi
gation of the river.

The earliest account of the place which I have been able
to find is that of the Rev. Johannes Megapolensis, the first
minister of the gospel in Albany, who settled there in 1642.
It was contained in a description which he wrote to
friends in Holland of the manners and habits of the Mohawk
Indians, and is as follows:

" Through this land runs an excellent river about five hun
dred or six hundred paces wide. This river, comes out of the
Mahakas country, about four miles north of us. There it


flows between two high rocky banks, and falls from a height
equal to that of a church, with such a noise that we can
sometimes hear it with us. In the beginning of June
twelve of us took a ride to see it. When we came there
we saw not only the river falling with such a noise that we
could hardly hear one another, but the water boiling and
dashing with such force in still weather, that it was all the
time as if it were raining ; and the trees on the hills there
(which are as high as Schooler Duyn) had their leaves all
the time wet exactly as if it rained. The water is as clear
as crystal and as fresh as milk. I and another with me saw
there in clear sunshine, when there was not a cloud in the
sky, as we stood above upon the rocks, directly opposite
where the river falls in a great abyss, the half of a rainbow,
or a quarter circle of the same color with the rainbow in the
sky. And when we had gone about ten or twelve rods
further downwards from the fall, along the river, we saw a
complete rainbow, or half a circle appearing clearly in the
water just the same as if it had been in the clouds, and this
is always to be seen by those who go there. In this river is
great plenty of several kinds of fish, pike, eels, perch, lam
preys, suckers, cat fish, sun fish, shad, bass, etc. In the spring,
in May, the perch are so plenty that one man with a hook
and line, can catch in one hour as many as ten or twelve
can eat. My boys have caught in less than an hour, fifty,
each a foot long. They have a three pronged instrument
with which they fish, and draw up frequently two or three
perch at once. There is also in the river a great plenty of
sturgeon, which we Christians do not eat, but the Indians
eat them greedily. In this river, too, are very beautiful
islands, containing, ten, twenty, thirty, fifty and seventy
morgens 2 of land."

The Description of New Netherlands published in Am
sterdam in 1656, byAdriaen Van Der Donck, :j contained some
interesting accounts of his explorations in this vicinity,
among them the following concerning the Falls :

1 Dr. Mitchill (in Coll. N. Y. Hist. Soc., i, 41), says: "No particular path wus
selected by the sturgeons. They seem to have ewam at large, as they do at present.
But they assembled for the propagation of their kind at the bottom of the Cohoea
or great falls of the Mohock." John Maude, from whose account a quotation is
given further on, stated that the river then (1800) furnished pike, bass and trout.

2 A morgen is about two acres.

3 New York Historical Collections.


" The other arm of the North River runs by four sprouts
as we have related to the great falls of the Maquas Kill
(Mohawk River) which the Indians name the Chahoos and
our nation the Great Fall, above which the river is again
several hundred yards wide and the falls we estimate to be
one hundred and fifty or two hundred feet high. 1 The
water glides over the falls as smooth as if it ran over an
even wall and fell over the same. The precipice is formed
of firm blue rock ; near by and below the falls there stand
several rocks, which appear splendid in the water, rising
above it like high turf heaps, apparently from eight, sixteen

to thirty feet high The Indians, when they

travel by water and come to trade, usually come in canoes
made of the bark of trees, which they know how to con
struct. When they come near the falls they land and carry
their boats and their lading some distance below the falls
and proceed on their voyage, otherwise they would be driven
over the falls and destroyed. An occurrence of this kind
took place here in our time. An Indian whom I have known
accompanied by his wife and child with sixty beaver skins
descended the river in his canoe in the spring when the
water runsrapid and the current is strongest for the purpose
of selling his beavers to the Netherlander. This Indian
carelessly approached too near the Falls before he discovered
his danger, and notwithstanding his utmost exertions to
gain the land, his frail bark with all on board was swept
over bythe rapid current and down the Falls ; his wife and
child were killed, his bark shattered to pieces, his cargo of
furs damaged. But his life was preserved. I have fre
quently seen the Indian and have heard him relate the peril
ous occurrence or adventure."

The following version of one of the Indian legends con
cerning the Fall, given in the Sentimental American Tra
veller, may have had its foundation in the account of Van
Der Donck, above quoted :

" Many years since, an Indian and his squaw, having made
too free with the bottle, were carelessly paddling along the
Mohawk in their canoe. On a sudden, perceiving themselves
drawn by the current and hurried down the stream to the
dreadful cataract, looking upon their fate as inevitable, they

1 The correct figures, according to measurements taken by Mr. Gwynn, proprietor
of the Cataract House, in 1875 are ; breadth 1,140 feet, height 86 feet.


composed themselves to die with resolution, in a manner
worthy their ancestors. They drank the last dregs of the
intoxicating cup and began the melancholy death song.
Occuna was dashed into pieces against the rocks ; his faith
ful consort escaped, but by what miracle has never been
known. The Indians of their tribe have preserved this in
cident by faithful tradition, and as often as any of them
pass the fatal spot they make a solemn halt and commemo
rate the death of Occuna."

Another form of the legend is the following, which went
the rounds of the newspapers in 1857:

" A squaw, being fatigued on a hot summer s day, betook
herself to rest in a canoe a short distance above the Falls.
She had hardly taken time to lay herself down in the bottom
of the canoe before it became loosened from its moorings
and the frail bark was hurled on by the current to the brink
of the precipice. She gathered her blanket over her head
and resigned herself to her fate, expecting to be dashed
to pieces on the rocks below. Heaven had however other
wise decreed. Her boat had taken the direction which
brought her to that point of the precipice where there was the
greatest quantity of water. She was picked up shortly
after, some distance below the Falls, senseless through fright
but otherwise unscathed."

Van Der Donck said, elsewhere : " I cannot forbear to
mention that in the year 1647, in the month of March, when
by a great freshet, the water was fresh almost to the great
bay, there were two whales of tolerable size, up the river,
the one turned back, but the other stranded, and stuck not
far from the great Fall of the Chahoos." 1

The following account of this occurrence is compiled from
O Callaghan s History of New Netherland:

" The winter which had just terminated, was remarkably

1 Judge Benson, in an article on the Dutch names of Albany and vicinity (Annals
of Albany, vol. 2), quotes this passage and says : u The lands immediately opposite
to Albany, and for a distance along and from the river, the Dutch denoted as Het
greene bosch, the pine woods, corrupted to Greenbush. The mouths of the Mo! och
they distinguished as the Spruytes, corrupted to, and which may also possibly pass
for a translation, the Sprouts. The larger island formed by the sprouts they called
Walvisch Island, Whale Island." This name, however, does not appear to have
been in general use.


long and severe. The North River closed at Rensselaerswyck
on the 25th November, and remained frozen some four
months. A very high freshet, unequalled since 1639, fol
lowed, which destroyed a number of horses in their stables,
nearly carried away the fort (Fort Orange, at Albany),
and inflicted considerable other damage in the colonie. A
certain fish of considerable size, snow white in color, round
in the body, and blowing water out of its head, made at
the same time his appearance, stemming the impetuous
flood. What it portended, God the Lord only knew. All
the inhabitants were lost in wonder, for at the same instant
that this fish appeared to us, we had the first thunder and
lightning this year. The public astonishment had scarcely
subsided when another monster of the deep, estimated at
forty feet in length, was seen, of a brown color, having fins
on his back, and ejecting water in like manner, high in the
air. Some seafaring people who had been to Greenland
now pronounced the strange visitor a whale. Intelligence
was shortly after received that it had grounded on an island
at the mouth of the Mohawk, and the people turned out in
numbers to secure the prize, which was, forthwith, subjected
to the process of roasting in order to extract its oil. Though
large quantities were obtained, yet so great was the mass
of blubber, the river was covered with grease for three weeks
afterwards, and the air infected to such a degree with the
stench, as the fish lay rotting on the strand, that the smell
was perceptibly offensive for two (Dutch) miles to leeward."

The journal of Jasper Dankers and Peter Sluyter, two
members of the society of Labadists, who came here from
Holland to procure a site for a colony of their sect, contains
the following, under date of 23d April, 1660:

" Mr. Sanders having provided us with horses, we rode
out about nine o clock, to visit the Cahoos, which is the
Falls of the great Maquas lil (Mohawk River), which are the
greatest falls not only in New Netherland, but in North
America, and perhaps, as far as is known, in the whole new
world. " We rode for two hours over beautiful, level, tillable
land along the river when we obtained a guide who was
better acquainted with the road through the woods. He
rode before us on horseback. In approaching the Cahoos
from this direction the roads are hilly, and in the course of
half an hour you have steep hills, deep valleys and narrow


paths, which run round the precipices, where you must ride
with care, in order to avoid the danger of falling over them,
as sometimes happens. As you come near the Falls, you can
hear the roaring which makes everything tremble, but on
reaching them and looking at them, you see something
wonderful, a great manifestation of God s power and sove
reignty, of his wisdom and glory. We arrived there about
noon. They are on one of the two branches into which the
North River is divided up above, of almost equal size. This
one turns to the west out of the highlands, and coming
here finds a blue rock which has a steep side as long as the
river is broad, which, according to my calculation, is two
hundred paces or more, and rather more than less, and
about one hundred feet high. The river has more water at
one time than another, and was now about six or eight feet
deep. All this volume of water coming on this side fell
headlong upon a stony bottom, this distance of an hundred
feet. Any one may judge whether that was not a spectacle,
and whether it would not make a noise. There is a con
tinual spray thrown up by the dashing of the water, and
when the sun shines the figure of a rainbow may be seen
through it. Sometimes there are two or three of them to
be seen, one above the other, according to the brightness of
the sun and its parallax. There was now more water than
usual in consequence of its having rained hard for several
days, and the snow water having begun to run down from
the high land."

In 1699, the Earl of Bellomont, who was engaged in
examining the country for the best means of procuring naval
supplies for the king, wrote as follows to the Lords of Trade,
in a report dated Boston, Oct. 20:

" I am glad to find there are pines of eleven and twelve
feet about, for either of those sizes is big enough for a first-
rate ship, as I am informed, and I am satisfied the trees
might be floated down the great Fall (which I have been at)
and then they will be the cheapest in the world, for they
may be floated all down Hudson s River to the snip s sides
that take em in to carry them to England. In summer,
when there is not a flood in the river, I grant it would
hazard the breaking such heavy trees to let them tumble
down that great Fall, but in winter I cannot believe there s
the least hazard. I stood looking a good while at that


Fall. It is at least six hundred yards broad and in the
highest place about fifty foot high. Tis eight miles above
Albany due north. The river while I was there was shal
low for about a mile below the Fall, and rocky except just
under the Fall which the people that were my guides assured
me was six fathom deep, and the mighty and continual fall
of water seems to have made the cavity in the rock, for that
it was solid rock, I could plainly perceive ; to be sure the
season of the year must be watched when there are floods
in the river and then I am confident those trees may be
safely floated, especially if the water be so deep at the foot
of the Fall as I was told, for then the depth of the water
will break the fall of the trees, besides there is an art to save
one of those great trees from breaking with its fall by bind
ing lesser trees about it."

Another report on the same subject was made May 13,
1701, by Robert Livingston, who wrote from New York:

" As to the production of masts and other naval stores
in this province I beg leave to inform your Lordships that
I am told those that are already cut are not so large as the
dimensions the Earl did notify, but are much less, and are
now on ground above the Falls, and cannot be got down
until the fall of the leafe, that the rivers are up ; that there
is no experiment made of getting any down the Fall. Some
are of opinion that the fall will spoil them, some otherwise.
It is about forty foot perpendicular and for two miles above
it, shelving ; which makes the stream so rapid that none
dare come near it with a canoe. I doubt the masts will
receive injury in the falling."

In the report made to Queen Anne in 1709, by the Board
of Trade, in regard to the settlement of a colony of Pala
tines (afterwards established near Little Falls) the country
about the Mohawk is recommended as being eligible, and, it
is added :

" The objection that may be made to the seating of the
Palatines on the fore mentioned Mohaques Kiver is the Falls
that are on the said river between Schenectady and Albany
which will be an interruption in the water carriage, but
that may be easily helped by a short land carriage of about
three miles at the west."

It was decided on this account to locate the colony else-


where, as appears from a report of Perry, Keill and Du Pr6
made to the London Board of Trade llth Dec., 1711, in
which it is stated that the country of the Maquaas was not
selected "because their lands are distant from the rivei
nearly twenty miles, and Schenectady besides a waterfall
of six hundred feet high, hath the same inconveniency upon
which account the carriage of anything would cost as much
if not more than its worth."

The obstruction afforded by the Falls to navigation is
thus noticed in a report dated 1757, found in the Paris docu
ments :

" Going from Chenectedi (Schenectady) to Orange (Al
bany) there is a Great Fall which prevents the passage of
batteaux so that everything on the river going from Che
nectedi to Orange passes over the high road that leads there

In the Memoirs of an American Lady by Mrs. Anne
Grant, who was living in Albany between 1757 and 1768,
appears the following on the same subject, with reference
to the journeys of the traders from Albany into the Indian
country :

" There commenced their toils and dangers at the famous
waterfall called the Cohoes, ten miles above Albany ....
This was the Rubicon which they had to pass before they
plunged into pathless woods, ingulphing swamps and lakes,
the opposite shores of which the eye could not reach. At
the Cohoes, on account of the obstruction formed by the
torrent, they unloaded their canoe, and carried it above a
mile further on their shoulders, returning again for the
cargo, which they were obliged to transport in the same

In 1760, the Falls were visited by Gov. Thos. Pownall, a
man who held several positions of importance in this country,
and was prominent among those Englishmen who at home
a few years later, defended the action of the colonies in
revolting from the crown. Among several interesting
volumes which he published in regard to America was one

Online LibraryArthur H. (Arthur Haynesworth) MastenThe history of Cohoes, New York [electronic resource] from its earliest settlement to the present time → online text (page 1 of 30)