Looking For Trader’s Hill A Sand Hill Lost and Forgotten in a Sea of Sand Hills

Considering the major economic engine of early and later frontier North America; Trader’s Hill is anything but a unique name. Trader’s Hills, Bays, Coves, Points, Inlets, Islands, etc. abound here and there and all around. Usually referring to the fur trade. Doubtless too, by now; there is a Trader’s Hill line of East Asian made men’s clothing trying, typically, to sound American or Canadian. I first encountered the Pine Bush’s own Trader’s Hill some years back. This was in a report that deemed it’s precise location indeterminable save for being; “somewhere near Albany.“ Not too bad a clue, if a few other puzzle pieces can be found and added.

The fur trade was the basis of Beverwyck/Albany coming into being. It’s main source of ongoing prosperity, and accumulating wealth for many years. Right from it’s official founding as Beverwyck in 1652, Albany enacted local ordinances to control the fur trade. Albany additionally lobbied successfully for Provincial laws restricting all fur trading in the northern part of the Province to itself. This was during both the Dutch and English administrations. Except for highly controlled exceptions at Irondequoit Bay and Oswego, all furs had, legally, to be brought to Albany by the Indians themselves. European goods for the Indian trade could not legally be brought past Albany. before being sold there. This lasted till 1727 when a Schenectady smuggler won a case in New York Supreme Court that finally finished the Albany monopoly. The main objectors to, and violators of this Albany trade monopoly were the Schenectady smugglers. Schenectady was founded in 1662 amidst stormy disputes over the Indian trade. But Schenectady smugglers could also prosper if they were not caught too often. So many houses of Colonial Schenectady were searched so many times before 1727 that the place should have been called “Search City.“ I think the sheriff forgot to look in all those village hayricks Schenectady was known for, for concealed storage bins. This then gives some background for two names, among three, of Trader’s Hill in the Pine Bush, as we shall shortly see.

Pieces of a Puzzle and Related Stories

The first and likeliest location in the Pine Bush to consider as qualifying for Trader’s Hill turned out to be a sand hill named by the local Dutch colonists; “Margriets Bergh.” This bergh or hill, was named for Margriet Bradt, nee Van Slyck. She was one of those Schenectady clandestine traders defying the Albany Monopoly. Her story is partly recounted in an essay published first in 1836 is a set of local history vignettes entitled “Olden Time Reminiscences.“ I own an 1857 reprint of these from which I here quote relevant excerpts This tale is set in the Pine Bush:

“YE – Noonda – IT – SHUT – CHERA is the aboriginal name given to a hill situated about three miles northwest the city of Albany. This name may be translated, “the hill of oil” – The Dutch called this hill “Maragrietje’s berg“ or Margaret’s hill in honer of Margaret Bradt, the widow of Andries Arentsen Bradt. This enterprising lady resided at Schenectady where she traded largely with the Indians in furs. . .The Albanians wished the Indians to bring all their furs to that city, that they thus might monopolize the fur trade . . . Processes were issued against several persons in Schenectady, and among the rest, against Mrs. Bradt. When the sheriff came to apprehend her, she gave him a horsewhipping . . . A great though short story but no direct identification with Trader’s Hill, or an exact location yet. Note : Noonda, Nonda, or Nunda are Mohawk and generally Iroquois words for “Hill.” ”

Margriet Bradt’s Edge on the Indian Trade

From the lead given in the above essay, and from there to genealogical sources and certain Indian deeds; it is revealed that Margriet Bradt’s maiden name was Margriet Van Slyck. Very significant for Mohawk Indian relations. Margriet’s grandfather, Cornelis Antonissen Van Slyck, was the earliest known Dutch resident of the Mohawk Valley well before the settlement of Schenectady. Not at a Dutch settlement but at the Canajoharie Mohawk Castle where he resided with his Mohawk wife. Cornelis was apparently adopted into the Tribe. He was known as “Broer Cornelis “ or Brother Cornelis. All of his children, including Jacques or Aukus, Margriet’s father, her uncle Marten, and her two aunts Leah and Hilletje were born at Canajorharie and partly brought up there as Indians. They then moved to Schenectady to learn Dutch and Dutch ways. This gave them advantages in becoming professional paid translators. Margriet’s father, Jacques, and her aunts, Leah and Hilletje, were all good translators, highly regarded, and trusted by all parties. Margriet’s uncle, Marten Van Slyck, signed as a witness to the 1661 Mohawk deed to Schenectady and was apparently the translator for that occasion, and may have been a negotiator as well. Margriet’s father was the co-patentee of Van Slyck Island, for which the very first Patent at Schenectady was issued in 1662. The Mohawks were given to acknowledging the Van Slyck’s relationship to their tribe down to, at least, Margriet’s generation, and considered her and her siblings as “cousins“ to the tribe.

For example: When Margriet’s father Jacques received a confirmatory patent for the First Flat at Schenectady, it was described, in part, as; “situated bestetween two creeks . . . It . . . came to him in right of his mother who was a Mohawk woman.” Again, when Margriet’s brother, Harmen, was deeded 2,000 acres by the Mohawks at Canajoharie in 1714, their deed of gift to him read, in part: “Ye love, goodwill and affection which we have and do bear towards our loving cozen and friend Capt. Harmen Van Slyck of Schenectady, whose grandmother was a right Mohaugs squaw and his father born with us in the above said Kanajoree . . .” Another interesting fact is that Margriet’s sister Lydia married Isaac Van Valkenburgh and in 1719 they became among the earliest settlers at the Verbergh in the Pine Bush, only three about three miles from Margriet’s smugglers hideout at Trader’s Hill. This Verbergh (Far Hill) settlement, by the way, was right by the Pine Bush Dump, and part of it’s area is now threatened by the Dump expansion plan. Another sister, Susanna, married Margriet’s brother-in-law Samuel Bradt who owned a large lot in Schenectady that included the site of that curious stone building at 9 Front Street. Margriet’s kinship ties with the Mohawk People, likely greatly favored her trading activities. The more so if anything at all akin to the Great Lakes Indian social and kinship aspects of trade then obtained in the Mohawk Valley. There is no mention though, of Trader’s Hill in all of this.

Another Piece of the Puzzle

What about real proof that Margriets Bergh is the same as Trader’s Hill? This proof is there in another puzzle piece. This piece was furnished by that most notable son of Guilderland and Pine Bush poet: Henry Rowe Schoolcraft. Henry, together with his highly accomplished Ojibway wife and teacher, Sound of Stars Rushing in Sky, pioneered North American ethnology studies. In the course of continuing so doing Henry Rowe Schoolcraft upon returning to New York for a time, produced a report on “Aboriginal Names of the State of New York.” This was published in 1845, and on page 42 of the report in “Part I- Valley of the Hudson” is the following entry: “A considerable hill about three miles northwest of Albany in the Plains, formerly a place of Indian trade, was called by the Mohawks Itsutchera, or by using it’s common prefix- Yonondis- Itsutchera. The meaning is the Hill of Oil. It is not now known how this name originated. It was called till within late years, Traders Hill.” No mention here of Margriets Bergh, but by fitting this with the other piece, the identification is positively established. Now it remains to find the real translation of the Mohawk name, and the location of this bergh. I cannot accept “Hill of Oil.” This will be done in the next issue with additional puzzle pieces and stories. A fun participatory plotting of the precise location of Trader’s Hill AKA Margriets Bergh, AKA Ye Noonda – It- Shut – Chera will also happen. In the meantime, those of you interested in participating in plotting this place should get a copy of the 1980 USGS 7 and 1/2’ Albany Quadrangle. Some other good map, will also do, but I found this best for the purpose, a ruler and perhaps a protractor will help.

To be continued in the next issue . . .

Published in the Jan/Feb 2009 Newletter