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Saturday, November 12, 2016

Places: Stone Arabia

The Place


The lead-in title might have you thinking this about some Crusader era battle cry or pot advocates targeting the middle east. But it is, in fact about a place. A place in central New York that comprised fertile fields and verdant forests encumbered by fresh water and a population of settlers from Germany. The name itself, variously spelled and pronounced, has long been a matter of curiosity, conjecture and myth - and may always remain so. The name Stone Arabia, Steen Rabi or Steen Raby in its Dutch spellings, is found in Dutch writings long before its use in America. Regardless of its origins, Stone Arabia, in the eastern Mohawk Valley, became the land of promise to various groups of settlers. But primarily to Germans from the Palatinate and Swiss who came to America in the 17th and 18th centuries. Curiously, the name was sometimes applied at various times to an area on the west side of the Hudson near Kingston, to the site of today's North Troy, and finally to the central Mohawk Valley. According to land records, for a few years just before the Revolution, Stone Arabia was given as a name to that section later to be called the Palatine District extending from the Nose to the Falls and northward to Canada, but on March 8, 1773, it lost this wider application and from that time the name was confined to the land patent in the Mohawk region.


The Valley

Sir William Johnson, His Majesty's agent to the Indians
of New York




The Mohawk Valley area was under the sway of Sir William Johnson, famed British Representative to the Indians in central New York. The period between the early 1700's and the beginning of the American Revolution was a one of white settlement and much strife with the native Iroquois. British policy was aimed at containing the white settlers and appeasing the Indians. Johnson was a generally successful executor of that policy. But tensions among the natives and the settlers always remained just below the boiling point, and often boiled over. Sir William's influence with both whites and Indians kept the peace m ore or less. But Johnson had his hands full in keeping order, in restraining certain settlers, in pacifying the natives when their pride and sense of justice were violated. To the Indians, as well as to Johnson and his British masters, the white settlers seemed land mad. Johnson tried to stem the settling of the land and strike a balance with the natives. These tensions were a recipe for brutal conflict when the American War for Independence erupted, making Stone Arabia the western frontier of the struggle. By the opening of the Revolution, Stone Arabia was well settled with a thriving and growing economy. Churches, schools, stores, mills, blacksmith shops, lime kilns, taverns and boatyards were plentiful along the Mohawk. Each farm had an orchard, which was generally the family burial-ground. Wheat, flax, potatoes, corn, fruit, hemp, hay, peas, and oats were grown, with wheat the leading crop. The wheat flour of the Valley was worth more in New York City than any other. The first houses were log; the next frame or stone. The area was an eclectic mix  of German, Dutch, English and Indian - the Mohawk Dutch.


The Revolution Comes to the Valley


Many Stone Arabia settlers became members of the Valley militia of New York. Prior to the war they met regularly for training and was subject to call to arms when emergencies arose. The Stone Arabia company was part of the 2nd battalion of Palatine militia. When the struggle for independence erupted, Stone Arabia's settlers were generally patriot. In fact, almost two years before the declaration of independence, the Stone Arabia farmers had drafted their own declaration of American Principles on 27 August 1774 in the  White Tavern, owned by Adam Loucks. These resolves read in part as follows:

III [in part]. That We think it is our undeniable Privilege to be taxed only with our own Consent given by ourselves (or by our Representative). That Taxes otherwise laid and exacted are unjust and unconstitutional....
IV. That the Act for blocking up the Port of Boston is oppressive and arbitrary, injurious in its principles and particularly oppressive to the Inhabitants of Boston, who we consider as Brethren suffering in the Common Cause.
V (in part). ...that we will join and unite with our Brethren of the Rest of this Colony in anything tending to support and defend our Rights and Liberties.

A Major Zielly and one Andrew Dillenback (later killed at Oriskany) were appointed to a committee to gather material for war. In the keeping of the spirit of pre-war revolutionary fervor, the people of Stone Arabia were alert and informed. And for good reason: they would soon find themselves at a pivotal place in the struggle's Northern Department. The fertile Mohawk Valley and the fields, particularly of Stone Arabia, were sources of supply for the Continental Army throughout the long struggle. In 1780 Washington depended on the wheat and oats of Stone Arabia to feed his army and was determined to keep it out of the hands of the British Loyalists in the region. This set the scene for  a small but brutal conflict whose only objective was destruction.


The Fighting Frontier


Mohawk Valley settlers defeated at Battle of Oriskany in 1777




The region played a key role in the British campaign of 1777 and many of the Palatinate Dutch served at Fort Stanwyck and fought at Oriskany. Two forts, Keyser and Paris, were built on Stone Arabia soil. Fort Keyser was a stone house (1740's) built by Johannes Keyser, was palisaded and garrisoned by militia troops under Lt. John Zeiley. Fort Paris was a fortified farm house and trading post (1737) originally built by Isaac Paris. A barracks for 100 men and a blockhouse were also inside the palisade. Despite, or because of the forts, the Loyalists and Indian allies struck at Stone Arabia twice. The first attack was the Ephratah-Dillenburgh raid in 1778. The afternoon of April 20, 1778, while a small company of twenty militia were drilling, a band of Indians and Loyalists appeared and began destroying homes and barns. Most of the militia went to defend their homes, but a small number of militia pursued the attackers. In a skirmish, several militiamen were killed including a boy of four. The Loyalists withdrew but stragglers from the Loyalist band  took a boy captive at Kringsbush and killed a young woman in sight of Fort Klock. These and the other raids north of the Mohawk River so frightened the inhabitants that most of those whom the Indians and Tories had missed moved down into the Mohawk Valley to gain protection in the forts. As far as the northern slope of the valley was concerned, the British effort to frighten the people away from their farms was a great success.



Fort Klock, Home of Colonel Jakob Klock
of Palatine Regiment of the Tryon County Militia



Battle of Stone Arabia



Map of Johnson Raid on Stone Arabia 1780





Sir John Johnson
On October 19, 1780 Sir John Johnson (William's son and controversial Loyalist leader) led an army of 900 Loyalist and British Regulars on an invasion of the Mohawk Valley. After following a circuitous route across southern New York State they swept north up the Schoharie Valley entering the Mohawk Valley at Fort Hunter where the army turned west towards the Canajohary/Palatine Districts. The invaders camped the evening of October 18th near the Noses, a geological feature which forms the great divide in the Appalachian Mountain chain. The following day they crossed the Mohawk River at Keator’s Rift and burned Jellis Fonda’s mill before continuing on to attack the settlement of Stone Arabia located a mile and half north of the Mohawk River in the Palatine District. Colonel John Brown of the Massachusetts’s Militia marched his 380 militiamen out of Fort Paris to meet the enemy on a field about a mile from the fort. Outnumbered nearly 3 to 1 he was shot from his horse and his men fled the field. Brown, who had served at Fort Ticonderoga  in 1775 and in the Quebec invasion, died on the field. With its defenders routed, Stone Arabia was completely destroyed by the enemy including the twin Dutch Reformed and German Lutheran Churches. Both churches were rebuilt after the war ended and still stand today.


Left in ashes by the raid, The Dutch Reformed Church
was rebuilt in 1788



The Legacy


The raid of 1780, with its intensive destruction, was a telling blow to the cause. It should be noted that there was more unanimity among the Palatine farmers in opposition to the British policy than in some other districts in the Valley. There was scarcely a family, however, that was not divided between loyalty to the crown and loyalty to the cause. And yet showing  we find New York Governor George Clinton (later 4th VP of the US) giving a fitting testament to the spirit of the Stone Arabia settlers, in 1781, "Most of Tryon and Schoharie have been destroyed. They are not however abandoned; the inhabitants having recovered themselves, continue to improve their farms and assist in the general defense."


NY Gov Clinton



Stone Arabia typified so many of the hundreds of localized conflicts that made up such a great but often overlooked part of the American war for Independence. The political  struggles and bitter fighting among British, Loyalists, Indians and Patriots in and around Stone Arabia played a telling and significant role in the early life in New York and in shaping an independent America.









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