By Capt. Franklin Ellis251
This, the central southern town of the county is bounded north by Taghkanic, east by Ancram, south by Milan and Pine Plains, in Dutchess county, and west by Livingston. It is the seventh town of the county in area, containing twenty-three thousand seven hundred and thirty-nine acres, of which less than three-fourths is under cultivation. In population it now ranks as the seventeenth town, and its population has been reported at the four last censuses as follows, viz.: in 1860, 1533, in 1865, 1392, in 1870, 1416; in 1875, 1361. It is centrally distant southeasterly form Hudson about thirteen miles.
The character of the surface is hilly in the extreme. A narrow strip of comparatively level land borders the Roeloff Jansen's Kill and the outlet of Lake Charlotte, but these lands soon change to rolling and soon to hilly country. The hills are generally arable to their summits, but a high range of rocky, sterile hills enters the town near Lake Charlotte in the northeast part, and extends in a southwesterly direction nearly across the town. The culminating point of this range is "Mattashuk Hill," south of Lake Charlotte. The soil is generally of a slaty or gravelly loam, and is moderately fertile. In the valleys the land is of a good quality for agriculture, and the hills in the south and east parts are fertile and productive. The crops raised are the same as in adjoining towns, rye being the principal grain.
The principal body of water is Lake Charlotte, sometimes called Coby's pond, after a man who once lived on its shore, which lies near the centre of the north border of the town. It lies in the form of a bent arm, with the elbow to the west. It occupies some one hundred and fifty acres, has an average depth of about twelve feet, and is said to be very deep in some places, it being asserted that it has been sounded to a depth of five hundred feet without finding bottom. The shores of the lake are gently sloping, and generally cultivated to the water's edge. The inner angle of the lake is, however, occupied by a heavily-wooded hill that rises in an easy slope from the water and attains a height of several hundred feet. This lake was named after a slave of Robert S. Livingston, who was his housekeeper at a house he built on the shore of the lake. The outlet of the lake is at the outer angle. It flows south for a mile and then takes a westerly course through the town of Livingston, and, after running a course of about eight miles, empties into Roeloff Jansen's Kill. The banks of this stream are low and flat for the first four miles of its course, and after that are steep and rocky. Roeloff Jansen's Kill, the principal stream, enters the town near the centre of its east line, and runs a rather tortuous course of some five and a half miles, in a southwesterly direction, passing into Pine Plains near Mount Ross. It again bends to the northward about a mile west of Jackson's Corners, and becomes the southern boundary until it enters the town of Livingston. The banks of this stream are generally steep and sometimes rocky, and its course is quite rapid, affording several good mill-seats.
Gallatin was formerly a part of the Livingston manor. This town was first settled in the latter part of the seventeenth century by emigrants from Holland and Germany. We are unable to give much of a sketch of this earliest settlement, and in giving the names of early settlers we refer to the earliest of whom any record or tradition is in existence. These first settlers followed the course of the streams, and selected their farms as far as possible in the intervals and flats. Probably the first inhabitant of the town was a man by the name of Hans Dings, who, as tradition says, came here nearly two centuries ago. As is indicated by his name, he was a Hollander, and upon his arrival in this country decided to take up his residence upon some part of the Livingston manor. Following the course of the kill to find a good location, he at last came to an Indian wigwam standing in a lovely glade, and stopped there to rest and refresh himself after his toilsome journey. The Indian seemed very friendly, and finally invited Dings to come to that point and make a settlement. Returning to the manor-house, Dings related his adventures, and Livingston sent a messenger to bring the Indian to him. A consultation was then held, which resulted in the drawing up of a lease satisfactory to all parties, and Dings immediately entered upon his possessions and cut a boundary line around them. Here the Dings family lived through several generations, until finally the proprietor of the manor suspecting that the farm boundaries included more land than the lease called for, caused it to be resurveyed, and thus cut off a parcel of land on which was situated a fine mill-privilege. This incensed the occupant of the farm; and he sold out his lease to Livingston, and removed to Pennsylvania. On the farm he there occupied, one of the most valuable coal mines in the State was afterwards discovered. The Dings farm remained in the possession of the Livingstons until it was sold to John G. Silvernail. His son, Egbert Silvernail, now owns and occupies it. It originally consisted of three hundred and sixty acres. The house occupied by the Dings family was built of very heavy timbers, some of them being twenty inches square, and stood on the south side of the road, directly opposite the present dwelling. It was a long house, and stood with its side to the road. It was torn down some time during the first quarter of the present century. When it was being demolished, several old documents were found in secure hiding-places. Most of these were written in Dutch, but a few of them were in English. One of the latter was an article of indenture, by which a young girl, an emigrant, was bound out as an apprentice by a Captain Hazard to pay her passage-money by a service of six years.
Some years ago, while grading for the foundations of a building, a number of human skeletons were discovered a few rods east of the site of the old house. One of them was that of a man who must have been over seven feet in height, a veritable giant. It is supposed that this was an Indian burial-place. Other relics of the aborigines who once inhabited this territory, in the shape of spear and arrow-heads, have frequently been discovered. Mr. Silvernail has a spear-head made of flint now in his possession.
In the northwest part of the town the first settlers were the families of two men named Coon and Wheeler. They were brothers-in-law and commenced a clearing together, a short distance east of the present site of the Methodist church. After the clearing was completed they divided the land into equal portions and proceeded to build their houses. Wheeler's house stood near the site of Mr. Henry Younghance's residence, and Coon's was near the present residence of Mr. William Pulver. Both of these men enlisted in the American army and served in the Revolution. Wheeler returned after the close of the war and became a resident, but Coon was killed in the war. His widow afterwards married Hendrick Younghance, and he retained the lease, which was passed down from one generation to another until about 1860, when the title to the soil was purchased by Henry Younghance (a grandson of Hendrick Younghance), who at present owns the lands first owned by Wheeler and Coon.
Hendrick Hoysradt was an early settler on the farm now occupied by Egbert Silvernail, on the east side of the creek. He was one of the first members of the "Vedder" church, and always punctual and regular in his attendance on the services. However, when it was thought best to hold the services, at least a portion of the time, for the benefit of the English-speaking inhabitants, he rather demurred, and only attended when the sermon to be delivered was given in the German language. At one time the pastor, in order to give to all the benefit of his discourse, translated the discourse into English, and after preaching awhile in German, stopped and gave the English version, and then proceeded through the sermon in the same way. The moment the last clause of the German discourse was uttered, Hoysradt left his seat and stalked gloomily from the church without waiting to hear it translated.
Matthew George settled on the place now occupied by Hiram Wheeler. He kept a blacksmith-shop there, and also did something in the line of selling liquor.
The place now owned by Andrew Coons was first settled by his grandfather, Andris Coons. That of S. P. Ham by John Harris. That of Caleb Wolcott by Christian Duntz. That of Michael Rowe by Heinrich Shook, who is said to have been a far and rosy Dutchman, whose chief occupation was trying to keep on the shady side of the house during the hot days of summer, and endeavoring in winter to secure an equable distribution of the heat of the fire to every portion of his body.
John Nicholas Duff was the name of the man who first settled on and cleared the farm now owned by Henry Silvernail.
Cornelius Miller was the first settler on the farm now occupied by Jacob and Adam Fingar, and Frederick Fingar was the first on that occupied by William Fingar, who is one of his descendants.
Oliver Griswold was the first settler in the northeast part of the town, about five miles north of Gallatinville. Nicholas Miller settled in Gallatin, a little south of Ancram village, on the place which still bears his name. John Kilmore, on the Kilmore place, and Peter Johnson were also early settlers.