Tuesday, June 24, 2008


I was filing some newspaper articles that I had previously scanned and saved in my computer and found an interesting Letter to the Editor that I had first come across in 2004. It tells of the formation of the Town of Berne. I am not sure now where I found it but it seems to be from either a Gallupville newspaper (was there ever one?) or the Gallupville column of a Schoharie paper. Unfortunately I did not even make a note of the date but based on the letter it must have been about 1902. Perhaps it was the Altamont Enterprise. (Four months ago Tom Tryniski, the Fulton History site owner, generously offered to scan microfilmed archived copies of the Altamont Enterprise to post on his site so they will be available free of charge to anyone using the Internet; as far as I know, he has still been sent nothing to scan.)

Mr. Editor:
As to the information on Towns that has been offered, I have some evidence that has not been seen as yet. I refer to the old town record book of Rensselaerville and the records of the town of Berne, continued in the same book from April 7th 1795 to April 12th 1853, Jackson King suprervisor and C. H. Bell town clerk in 1853. The book is in a good state of preservation although over 112 years old.

The first entry for the town of Rensselaerville is on April 6th 1790, the Town being taken from Watervliet, March 8th, 1790. Jacob Hochstrasser was supervisor and Israel B. Spencer, town clerk. They both held office until April 7th, 1795. On April 15th 1794, a special town meeting was held to divide the town, (in accordance with an act passed by the legislature) and Berne was taken from Rensselaerville, March 17th 1795, and on april 7th 1795,the first town meeting for the town of Berne was held at the home of Johanis Fisher, innkeeper. The same place is now owned and occupied by Thos. J. Wood, just north of the village of Berne. At that town meeting the same persons were elected supervisor and town clerk that had served in Rensselaerville for the past five years, viz. Jacob Hochstrasser supervisor, and Israel B. Spencer town clerk. We also note that Johannis Fisher and others in that locality during the course of a few years lived in three towns, viz: Watervliet, Rensselaerville and Berne. Knox was taken from Berne Feb. 28th 1822, so that the people who lived in the north part were in four different towns. In 1814, 3 school commissioners and 5 inspectors were elected for the first time in Berne. In 1817 slavery was abolished. In 1819 there were 25 licenses and permits granted to sell liquors in Berne. Price $5. In 1833, 2 justices of the peace, the first in Berne, were elected, viz. Henry Weidman and James Parish.

Who can inform us who Jacob Hochstrasser was, where he lived, etc.

Geo. E. Shultes

Colony of Rensselaerwyck

In 1629 most all of the land in Albany and Rensselaer Counties were part of the Dutch Colony of Rensselaerwhyck which had been granted in that year to Kiliean Van Rensselaer, a wealthy Dutch Merchant.

Rensselaerwyck Manor

When in 1664 the English wrested control of the Dutch Colonies in the New World they continued to honor the Van Rensselaer land grant, which now became known as the Rensselaerwyck Manor.

About 1740 the first settlers in the what is now the western half of the Town of Berne said they were from the Beaverdam. (These homesteaders were actually squatters since they did not lease the land from the Van Rensselaer owners.) Marriage records in both Schoharie churches and churches below the hill say the bride or the groom was from Beaverdam or Beaver Dam. And, of course, about 1765 when the first church was formed in the area, it took the name "The Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of the Beaverdam." ("Dutch" signified that the congregation was "Deutch", i.e. German.)

Town of Watervliet

In 1788 the Town of Watervliet was created; it consisted of all of what is now Albany County except the city of Albany, and part of Schenectady County. For the next two years folks who a few years later would live in Berne were from Watervliet.

Town of Rensselaerville

As Shultes points out in his Letter to the Editor, in 1790 the Town of Rensselaerville was created from the western half of Watervliet. The result was that in the 1790 federal census everyone who lived in what are now the Towns of Berne, Knox and Renssselaerville were listed as being from Rensselaerville.
In 1791, in a Van Rensselaer deed for the Reformed Church farm, the church was called, "The Reformed German Church of Beaverdam in the town of Rensselaerville," thus acknowledging the change in the name of the town.
Town of Bern

In 1795 the Town of Bern was created from the northern two thirds of the Town of Rensselaerville. What is really interesting is that Hochstrasser and Spencer, the Rensselaer town officials selected in 1790, lived in what is now Berne; and when Berne was created they became the town officials of Bern and kept Rensselaerville's official journal. For them it was a merely a change of name and a reduction in size.

The first use of the name Bern for the area is when the Town was created. Records for churches below the hill continued to say people from Bern were from Beaverdam for the next decade before they finally got use to using the name of Bern.

In 1797 the Reformed Church officially became "The Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of Bever Dam." They gave up changing the name of the church every time the name of the Town was changed.

Town of Berne

Our Heritge, the 1977 Bicentennial history of the Town of Berne, says the spelling of the town name was changed from Bern to Berne sometime in the late 19th century. The middle of the 19th century would have been more correct, since it was spelled Bern in the 1850 federal census and Berne in the 1860 census. I am not sure what the spelling was in the 1855 New York State census


I am very glad Shultes asked, "Who can inform us who Jacob Hochstrasser was, where he lived, etc.," since some of the information now in the Berne Families Geneaolgy on Jacob Hochstasser and his son Jacob Jr. appears to be wrong. I now believe the first supervisor of Rensselaerville and Berne was the Jacob Samuel Hochstrasser, b. ca. 1730 in Brenshcelbach, Hamburg, Germany, son of Samuel. About 1754 in Germany Hochstrasser married Maria Elizabeth Merselis. I now identify Jacob as the first Justice of the Peace of the Town of Berne; he was called Jacob Hochstrasser, Esq. and his son was Jacob Hochstrasser, Jr.

Jacob must have immigrated with his brother Paulus. The earliest record of the Hochstrasser’s in the Albany area that I have found so far is the Oct. 1765 Albany Reformed Church baptism of Paulus, Jr., son of the brother of Jacob, Paulus, Sr. and his wife Elizabeth. Since two of Jacob’s children were baptized in the same church in 1768 and 1771, it appears that the family initially settled near the city of Albany, perhaps in Guilderland or maybe even Knox.

The only Hochstrassers shown on the 1787 Van Rensselaer survey map of the western half of the Rensselaerwyck Manor (Berne and Knox) are Jacob's sons Paul b. 1759 and Balthazar living near what is now East Township, in what is now the Town of Knox. Balthazar's 1786 Schenectady marriage record to Catherine Achenbach, says he was born in Germany; since he was born 31 Dec. 1764, their father Jacob and his brother Paulus, Sr. must have immigrated in 1765. This is contrary to the legend in Our Heritage, the history of Berne written in 1977, that the Hochstrassers came to Berne with six other families led by Jacob Weidman in 1750.

Buried in the Beaverdam Cemetery is:
"Judith, wife of Jacob Hochstrasser, Esq. died April 10, 1789, aged 18 yr."
My initial thought was that, because of her young age, this could not be the wife of the elder Jacob, Sr. who had earned the title of Esq. due to his prominence and success in the town; however, the younger Jacob would have been identified on her tombstone as Jacob Hochstrasser, Jr. Surprisingly, I found an 18 October 1788 marriage of Jacob Hochstrasser and Judith Hone in the First and Second Presbyterian Church in NYC. She was probably his third wife.

The 1790 federal census has Jacob Hochstrasser listed in the Town of Rensselaerville near his son Baltus in the area that is now the Town of Knox.

From 1793 - 1797 Jacob was one of several men who represented Albany County in the New York State Assembly.

In 1796 Jacob Hochstrasser married Elizabeth Prince Miller, also in NYC. Undoubtedly his association with the politicians and businessmen in Albany put him in contact with the father's of his last two wives.

Some time in the 1790's Jacob Hoschstrasser, Esq. moved to the east end of hamlet of Berne, perhaps to be near to his daughter, Elizabeth, who in 1790 married Jacob Settle, the soon to be proprieter of one of the early stores in the hamlet. To the west was the 30 acre lot of Petrus Weidman on which he had built the biggest house in Berne.

According to an April 1798 newspaper article, Hochstrasser was out walking in Weidman's fields when he came across a badly decomposed body hanging from a silk handkerchief noose looped around the neck and suspended from the top rail of a fence. After much searching it was learned that it was the sad remains of Lemuel Olmstead of Rensselaerville who had disappeared from his home the previous December.

Since there is no Jacob Hochstrasser living in Berne in 1800, I assume that Jacob Esq. died between 1798 and 1800. However, there is a Jacob Hochstrasser in 1800 living in Trenton, Oneida, NY. Further research shows that he ran a lime kiln and stone quarry, so this would not be Jacob Hochstrasser, Esq. An 1808 newspaper article says that Jacob Hochstrasser of Trenton was declared a pauper. Could that have been Jacob Hochstrasser, Jr., formerly of Berne?

More on the early history of the Town in the next posting.

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