Captain Franklin Ellis


The History of Columbia County

Everts & Ensign



Pages 368 to 378


     This town, which is the sixth in size and the tenth in population, lies on the eastern border of the county, adjoining the State of Massachusetts, and is the central town of the east line.  Its southern line is also the northern line of the old Livingston manor, as it was finally agreed upon between the patroons, Livingston and Van Rensselaer.  Its area is 26,399 acres, of which 21,058 acres are returned as improved.  Its population in 1860 was 2552; in 1865, 2142; in 1870, 2083; and in 1875, 1879.  Its greatest length is from north to south, is six and one-third miles.  It is centrally distant east from Hudson about twelve miles.  It is centrally distant east from Hudson about twelve and one-half miles.

     The surface is generally hilly in its character.  Along the eastern border of the town lies the Taghkanic range of mountains, its projecting spurs on the east extending to and beyond the Massachusetts line.  At the foot of this range, a fertile valley, some two miles in width, runs nearly across the town.  The northern part is made up of broken, irregular hills and narrow valleys.  In the west a pleasant little valley extends nearly halfway across the town, and along the southern line a vale of varying width runs till it joins the larger valley at Hillsdale village.  The hills are generally rounded in form, and arable to their summits, though a few of them are rocky and of a precipitous character.  The highest points of these hills afford many fine and some extensive views.

     The principal streams of the town are Green river (a small stream that flows across the northeast corner of the town, derives its name from the peculiar transparent green tinge of its waters, and is noted for the number of trout that frequent it); the small brooks that flow across the east part of the town, and unite to form Roeloff Jansen's Kill; the head-waters of Copake creek, flowing south in the western part of the town, and the rills that form the head-waters of Claverack creek that rise in the northwest part of the town.  There are no natural lakes or ponds.  The reservoir of the Mellenville manufactories, near the line of Claverack, covers several acres of ground, with a depth of some twenty feet of water.

     The town was originally a part of the Van Rensselaer patent, except the eastern part, which formed a portion of the lands claimed by both Massachusetts and New York.  March 12, 1793, the State surrendered its claim to all lands actually occupied by settlers.  This enabled some of the inhabitants to obtain titles to their farms, but others less fortunate were obliged to take leased lands, with all the odious features of ancient feudalism attached.

     The soil is composed of a variety of combinations of slate, gravel, clay, limestone, and loam, and is generally quite productive.  The prevailing rocks are slate, shale, and quartz.  Iron ore of excellent quality is found in the eastern part of the town, and in some parts the quartz-rock is found to contain gold, silver, and lead.  A mineral paint of excellent quality is also found in the vicinity of one of the ore-beds.

     This town was settled at a very early day, probably before 1750; the south by immigrants from Massachusetts and Connecticut, and the northern part by Dutch settlers.  Among them were families named Showerman, Blackman, Kinyon, Fregers, Everts, and Sharts.  Prominent among the early inhabitants were also mention Martin Krum, Elisha Hatch, James Shepard, Jeremiah Shaw, William Orr, Isaac Spalding, Joshua Whitney, Archibald and Robert Lamont, William White, Joseph Morehouse, Jared Winslow, Isaac Hatch, William Tanner, Nathaniel House, M.D., James Bryan, Gaius Stebbins, Abel Brown, John Pixley, John and David Collin, Parla Foster, Refine Latting, Quincy Johnson, Caleb Benton, M.D., Azariah Judson, John Higgins, William Higgins, Benjamin Birdsall, Ambrose L. Jordan, Abraham Overhiser, Henry Loop, Augustus Tremain, Isaac and Silas Downing, John P. Becker, Christopher W. Miller, Harry Truesdell, Samuel Mallery, Oliver Teall, John Tremaine, Elisha Hatch, John Tyler, Charles McKinstry, John Wager, and families named Hill and Bartlett.

     It is almost if not quite impossible to learn anything definite about these early settlers.  Some of the families have become extinct; some have removed; some have representatives still in town; and a few maintain the line of descent unbroken.

     Prominent among the early settlers were John and Avid Collin, brothers, and the children of John Collin, of Milford, Conn.  Their grandfather, Paul Collin, married Judith Vallean, and was driven from France by the religious persecutions of the early years of the eighteenth century.  Their son John (1st) married Hannah Mervin.  He was a sea-captain, and was finally lost at sea in the year 1746.  John (2d) settled in the western part of Hillsdale, on what is now known as the Higgins farm, where he lived for a few years, and then removed to the eastern part of the town, on the farm now occupied by his grandson, Hon. John F. Collin.  David Collin occupied the place now owned by Rutsen Hunt.  John was commissioned as captain by Governor Tryon, and afterwards held a similar commission from Governor George Clinton.  He lost one son, Anthony, in the Revolution.  He was taken prisoner by Sir Henry Clinton's troops, and died in captivity in December, 1777, aged but seventeen years.  David was a lieutenant in the Colonial army during the French war, and participated in an unsuccessful attack upon Fort Ticonderoga.  While residing in Amenia, Dutchess county, during the Revolution [page 369], his house was attacked and plundered by a band of robbers, who treated his family with great rudeness and tortured him nearly to death.  He died in Hillsdale in 1818, aged eighty-four years.  John Collin (2d) was succeeded on the farm by his son John (3d), and he in turn by his son John Francis, who is the present proprietor.  He has been a very successful business man, a man prominent in public life, and a man of great influence among his fellows.  In 1833 he was elected to the State Legislature, and in 1844 was elected member of Congress.  In both of these positions, as well as in all the many minor offices to which he has been called, he acquitted himself with honor and credit.  To his kindness we are indebted for invaluable aid in gathering the materials for this work.  His brother, Henry A. Collin, was prominent in town affairs, and was five times elected supervisor of Hillsdale.  In 1856 he removed to Mount Vernon, Iowa.  Hon. John F. Collin has two sons living; John F. lives on the homestead, and Quincy J. is a Methodist Episcopal minister, now engaged in teaching in California, and is also pastor of a Union church there.

     Quincy Johnson, a prominent early settler, was a son of William and Jane Johnson, of Bridgewater, Mass., a grandson of Benjamin and Ruth Johnson, of Hingham, Mass., and a great-grandson of Isaac and Abigail Johnson, of the same place.  He was descended from either Isaac or Edward Johnson, both of whom came to Massachusetts with Governor Winthrop in 1630, and were prominent men in the Massachusetts colony.  He came to Hillsdale with his parents about the close of the last century, and became a prominent citizen of the town.  He died in Hillsdale in April, 1878, aged nearly eighty-eighty years.  His eldest son, Wesley Johnson, spent several years in Africa, assisting in the work of establishing the Liberia colony.  He went out as physician to the governor's family, and was subsequently called upon by unforeseen circumstances to himself discharge the duties of the gubernatorial office.  He was once wounded while assisting in repelling an attack of the natives upon the colony.  He devoted his time and money to the work of establishing a college there for the intellectual and moral elevation of the people, and by his strenuous exertions so weakened his system that he fell a victim to the malaria of the climate, and had a severe attack of fever.  Recovering partially from it, he returned to his American home, hoping to recuperate and be enabled to complete his work in establishing the college; but he failed to realize the expected benefit and rapidly failed, and died in Hillsdale July 1, 1844, aged thirty-one years.  He was universally respected for his talents, scholarly attainments, enterprise, and amiability of character.  Quincy Johnson still has two sons living in Hillsdale.  They are William Leonard and John Quincy Johnson.

     Perhaps the most numerous family in the town are the Beckers.  The first of the name in Hillsdale was Peter Becker, who married Mary Southard about 1780.  Their son, John P. Becker, married Elizabeth Clum.  Philip Becker, who now lives in Hillsdale, was one of the children of that union.

     Martin Krum, from Germany, settled in Hillsdale about the year 1745; the place was then called Nobletown.  He bought eight hundred acres of the Rensselaer manor.  The old homestead was the place now occupied by Moses Becker.  His sons were John, Martin, Jacob, Henry, Peter, Daniel, and David.  David died in early life; John settled in Columbia county, but in after-years moved to Schoharie; Peter went to Ohio.  The others remained in Columbia.  His daughters were Mrs. Henry Blunt, of Chatham, Mrs. Fite Mesick, of Claverack, and Mrs Peter Mull, of Chatham.  The second husband of the last named was John Mesick.

     Judge Krum, of St. Louis, is a grandson of Martin, Sr., and a son of Peter.  The old homestead became several different farms.  The house, built before the Revolution, remained in the family until 1835, the last owner being Martin H. Krum, a grandson, now of Fairville, Wayne Co.  A son of the latter si Dr. Josephus Krum, of Seneca Falls, for a long time pastor of the Presbyterian church of that place.

     William Jordan was born in North Castle, Westchester Co., in 1751.  He was a soldier in the Revolution and served through the war, participating in the battles of White Plains and Stillwater.  He married Ruth Ferris, of Horse Neck (now Greenwich Conn.), and came to Hillsdale soon after the close of the war, settling in the west part, on the farm now occupied by his grandson, Abram I. Jordan.  He died in 1833. He was a farmer, and being something of a military man, was familiarly known as "Major" Jordan.

     Of his children, John settled in Claverack, and in his old age removed to Palmyra, Wayne Co., N. Y., where he died.  William settled near his father in Hillsdale, and died there.  Daniel and Benjamin removed to Palmyra, N. Y., and died there a few years since at an advanced age.  Abram was educated as a physician, located in Claverack about 1815, and was a few years later married to Catharine Mesick, of that town.  He was a skillful and successful physician, and enjoyed an extensive practice through a professional life of nearly forty years, finally retiring from practice in 1852.  He was a man of irreproachable character and greatly beloved by the people, who eagerly sought his counsel and assistance even in his old age.  He died in 1855, having nearly reached the threescore-and-ten years allotted to man.  Of Ambrose L. a full biographical sketch will be found elsewhere. [click here]  Allen was educated as a lawyer, and entered upon the practice of his profession at Hudson, where he at once took rank among the first and most promising of his colleagues.  He was, however, driven by ill health to abandon the practice of the law, and removed to Plainfield, Ill., in 1848, where he still resides.  Rebecca married Adam Van Dusen, of Clifton Springs, N. Y., and removed to that place.  She had a large family, and one of her sons, Hon. Ambrose L. Van Dusen, has represented the first Assembly district of Ontario county in the Legislature.  She died in September, 1877, aged ninety-six years.  Lucy married James Phillips, of Claverack, and died young.

     William White, William Schutt, Parla Foster, Eli Rood, James Shepard, John Jones, and Henry Speed were soldiers in the Revolutionary war.  All except the first named were living in 1840, and were pensioners of the government. [Page 370]  The earliest ministers were Abel Brown, Parla Foster, and Harry Truesdell.

     The first merchants were Gaius Stebbins at Murray's Corners, by Parla Foster, at Hillsdale, and by James Bryan, where Dr. H. Cornell now lives.

     The first saw-mills and grist-mills were built at a very early date, and their history is lost in oblivion.  Among the earliest now known of were a grist-mill where Wheeler's saw-mill now stands; a saw and grist-mill where Philip Becker's saw and planing-mill now stands; a saw and grist-mill about one and a half miles above the Becker mill, on the Roeloff Jansen's Kill; and a mill near Harlemville, where the Richmond Mills now stands.  "Spafford's Gazetteer," published in 1813; says that there were then in the town (which included part of the present town of Austerlitz) "eleven grist-mills, ten saw-mills, four fulling-mills, and four carding-machines."

     Among the first fulling-mills were three on the Roeloff Jansen's Kill, in the Collin neighborhood.  One of the first carding-machines was near the site of the Bailey mill, and another near the present Wheeler mill.

     Refine Latting was the first tanner and currier in town.  He lived a little west of the village, and also kept an inn.  Jared Winslow, probably the first blacksmith, resided, and had a shop, at Green River.

     The first and only furnace in town was built by Philip Becker, about 1835.  It is a small one, devoted to the making of plow castings and custom work.  It is now owned by a Mr Vosburgh.

     The first lawyer to settle in Hillsdale was Thomas K. Baker, who came about 1820.  He remained a few years, and then removed to western New York.  Soon after him came Russell G. Dorr, who remained in the town till his death.  Martin H. and Harriet Dorr, of this town, are two of his children.

     The first post-office was kept by Refine Latting, and was about a half-mile west of Hillsdale village.  It was supplied with mail by means of the Hudson and Hartford stages.

     The earliest physicians were Nathaniel House and Caleb Benton.

     Another early and widely-known physician was Dr. Abraham Jordan, afterwards of Claverack.  He was commissioned a surgeon in Ten Broeck's brigade during the war of 1812-15.

     Previous to the settlement by the whites this section was much frequented by the Indians.  One family lived here for many years after the whites came in.  About 1810 the last remnants of the aborigines, in the person of two of that race who were named Paul and Phoebe, removed to the western part of this State.  There was an old trading-post near what is now called Murray's Corners, and an old fort once stood near the old burying-ground near Levi Coon's residence.  Three brothers named Overhiser emigrated from Germany to America about 1750.  One of them, named Barnett, settled near Stamford, in Dutchess county.  His son Abraham married Elizabeth Eighmey, and in 1810 removed with his family to Hillsdale.  His children were named Eve, Phranaca, Caspar, George, Conrad, Elizabeth, Abram, Mary, and Barnett.  Barnett succeeded his father on the homestead, which is now occupied by his son, Ambrose L. Overhiser.  John H. Overhiser, of Hudson, is a son of George Overhiser.

     This town was formed as a district March 26, 1782.  It had previously been a part of Claverack.  It was recognized as a town March 7, 1788.  In 1818 a part of Austerlitz was taken off.

     Its name is supposed to have been derived from the peculiar conformation of the surface, which is a varied succession of hills and dales.  From the orthography given the name in early times, "Hill's Dale," it seems quite possible that it might have been named in honor of some one named Hill, but the other is the generally accepted origin of the title.

     From the fact that no records previous to 1847 can be found it is impossible to give any prominence to the early civil history, and the lists of officers are also very imperfect because of it.  The following is the most perfect list we have been able to get:


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