Cherry Valley, Otsego, NY
By Holice and Debbie
In placing before the reader a history of this church, it is deemed proper to give it in exteso, as its organization was coincident with the settlement of the place in 1740, and the annals of the church from that time to the present form, in a large degree, a history of the village. The Rev. H. U. Swinnerton, A. M., the present talented and efficient pastor, added a valuable contribution to the historic literature of this locality, by the compilation of a work, entitled "An Historical Account of the Presbyterian Church at Cherry Valley, N. Y.," from which the following sketch is compiled:
This church was organized immediately upon the settlement of the locality, by Rev. Samuel Dunlop, a graduate of Trinity college, Dublin. Tradition informs us that on the northern slope of the hill where was located the house of Mr. Lindesay, now the residence of Mr. Phelon, was erected in the first days of the embryo village, a log church and school-house.
Mr. Dunlop was not only a minister, but a scholar, and an earnest friend of that thorough education which has been so inseparable a part of the history of Presbyterians in Scotland, as well as all over the world. He at once began the teaching of the classics to the boys of the settlement, and to others who came from the scattering villages of the Germans on the Mohawk; and it is related of him that as he guided the ox-team at the plow, the lads followed in the fresh earth of the furrow, scanning the daily "stent" of Homer or of Virgil. He was the educator of a number of men who became eminent and useful in the great struggle which, some years later, evoked the energies of the youthful nation.
Mr. Dunlop was an energetic man, and the statement has come down that in his desire to meet his brethren in the ministry, made the long journey to New Hampshire, and attended presbytery. Though the records of that day, both of the presbytery and the church are lost, there can be but little doubt that the distant charge of Cherry Valley was one of the twelve churches which are said to have formed that early presbytery of Boston. At a later time a nearer point of support was found. An ancestor of De Witt Clinton* had settled at Little Britain, in Ulster County, near the Hudson in 1731. There grew up before the Revolution what was called the presbytery of Ulster; and with that as their nearest neighbors, the church and its pastor seem to have been connected.
But this long trip to presbytery was not the most distant journey this active man performed. He seems to be have been capable of undertaking anything when he had a reason. He was the first person in Cherry Valley to make the voyage to Europe across the ocean. He was still unmarried; and it was not nearly seven years since he had left his friends in Ireland. When he started for America it was to seek a home to which he night take the young girl who had promised to be his wife. But that engagement had prudently been made conditional; for, like those who seek their fortune on the Pacific Coast in these days, it is not uncommon for the adventurer who started for the new world to be lost by shipwreck, by pirates, or by the Indians, and never be heard of after. It was too much to ask that the happiness of her whole life should hang on such chances, and it was stipulated that if the young minister did not return within seven years the lady should be free. The time was almost out, and others had sued for her hand. To one of them she had at last yielded, and while poor Dunlop was beating off the stormy northern coast, panting to make a harbor, the preparations for the wedding were in progress. He arrived the day before the marriage, and the last day of the appointed term, claimed his bride, was joyfully accepted as one returned from the dead, and led her away to his wildwood home. Poor lady! Could she have known the scene of bloody violence in which she was to yield up her life, she might well have hesitated to embark. The frontier settlement of cherry Valley prospered and increased in population.
As years went by death claimed his share from the number of the people, and a spot was selected on arise of ground, near the southern edge of the village, where they were laid away to rest, and many a rude slab, split from the limestone-ridge hard by, still marks the spot where a pioneer lies wrapt in his long slumber, but whose name no hand skilled with the chisel was there to engrave. With their growing numbers better accommodations for their worship than the old log house could afford became necessary, and a frame church, the second edifice, was erected within the limits of the little quiet grave-yard.
Like all the communities of our country, the constant struggles with the Indians or with the French gave occasion to develop those war-like qualities which were soon to be useful in the grandest effort ever made by any nation in the sacred cause of freedom. Frequent rumors of dangers required that the rifle should b shouldered by the head of the family, as he led his wife and children to the house of God, and that the sentry should pace watchfully to and fro before the door, while the psalm was listed up from pious hearts within.
Every man became in some sense a soldier, and even the sports of the children in the village street were those of marching and maneuvering, -the keen eye of the savage, peering from the brushwood of the overlooking hill, being at least once deceived at the sight of their parades into believing that real soldiers had arrived to garrison the place. Service in the old French war promoted several of the members of the church to military offices of some rank, whose regular commissions are still preserved, and scarce a man was there but had seem something of war.
The stern occasion for the use of all their bravery and all their endurance had now come. The Presbyterians of Ireland never yet wasted too much love on the oppressive government of Great Britain. The fathers of some of them had been in the siege of Londonderry and the battle of the Boyne, and we may be sure that they were Whigs. The stamp-act affair reached them, and likewise did the proceedings in Boston harbor. When the news came of what had been done at Concord and Lexington (brought by a courier hastening west and leaving the country all on fire with his patriotic fury as he passed), there was hardly a man who did not resolve to take up the fight. Before this, Cherry Valley had been included in a territorial division called Palatine district of the county of Tryon. A standing committee of safety was formed for the district, with sub-committees in every hamlet. They were under the rule of the family of Johnstons, zealous royalists, who formed the centre of a nest of Tories at Johnstown. Little formidable in themselves, they were made so by reason of their entire control of the great Indian league of the Six Nations, who infested the forests of the whole region. The little church was the scene of the first meeting of the committee, which convened the people to denounce the attempts of the Tories by a bold stroke to carry that part of the country over to the side of the oppressors. By subverting the grand jury and judges assembled in the spring of 1775 the actions of congress had been denounced, and it was hoped thereby to array these settlements against the cause of independence. The patriots in the church subscribed the following article of association in opposition to that attempt.
Thus our church, consecrated already as a seat of piety, became a cradle of liberty and a theatre of heroic action. Surely, not more adventurous was it to sign the Declaration of Independence in the old State House at Philadelphia than to write one's name on that paper in the rude frame church in the graveyard at Cherry Valley.
These Presbyterians were the more exasperated in that a large body of Roman Catholic Highlanders, their own apostate countrymen, as they regarded them, formed part of the army at Johnstown with which they were threatened. In a letter to the committee at Albany, imploring help to save the frontier for freedom, they concluded as follows:
"In a word, gentlemen, it is our fixed resolution to support and carry into execution everything recommended by the Continental Congress, and to be free or die."
A document, still extant, shows in what regard the Christian Sabbath was held by them in the grand Centennial of a hundred years ago. The question was not then whether Sunday is a day of holy rest or a day of worldly pleasure. The following is a letter written from Cherry Valley in reply to a citation to convene with the committee at a meeting for a certain Sunday. It reminds one of the reply of the apostles when they were forbidden to preach. "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye: For we cannot:"
Cherry Valley, June 9th, 1775.
Sir: we received yours of yesterday relating to the meeting of the committee on Sunday, which surprised us not a little, inasmuch as it seemed not to be in any alarming circumstances; which, if it was, we should readily attend. But as that does not appear to us to be the case, we think it is very improper; for unless the necessity of the committee sitting superexceed the duties to be performed in attending the public worship of God, we think it ought to be put off till another day. And therefore we conclude not to give our attendance at this time unless you adjourn the sitting of the committee till Monday morning. And in that case we will give our attendance as early as you please. But otherwise we do not allow ourselves to be cut short of attending on the public worship except the case be so necessitous as to exceed sacrifice. We conclude with wishing success to the common cause, and subscribe ourselves the free born sons of liberty.
JOHN MOORE, SAMUEL CLYDE, SAMUEL CAMPBELL.
P. S. If you proceed to sit on the Sabbath, please to read this letter to the committee, which we think will sufficiently assign our reason for not attending.
These were men who could fight as well as pray. Of the three, the first was disabled, but the second, then a major, and the third, then a lieutenant-colonel (with a brother of the latter, who was killed), were the only men from Cherry Valley in he battle of Oriskany, and at the close of that stubborn and bloody action led off the remnant of the regiment of colonel Cox, who was killed.
In 1778 a fort was erected on the hill where was located the church and school-house, the entire establishment being surrounded by a stockade. The second edifice thus became the church within the fort. We have now traced the history of the church to the massacre. (The History of Otsego, NY, by Duane Hamilton Hurd, 1878)
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Transcribed by Holice B. Young
Copyright Debbie Axtman and Holice B. Young
December 23, 1999