A Catskill Catalog: October 12, 2011

William Streeter came to America in 1790. There are still, today, Streeters in Sussex, England, the family-home the 20-year-old left behind.

The Streeters were Baptists, non-conformists in a place, late 18th-century England, where everyone was required to utilize the established church, the church sponsored by the government. Want to get married? To be recognized as legal, all marriages had to be performed in an Anglican church by an Anglican priest.

Ignore that rule at your own economic peril. At the end of life, it can be difficult to pass on one’s property to a wife the law sees as a concubine, to children legally illegitimate. Besides, who wants to live that way?

We learn in school how people came to America seeking religious liberty. It didn’t stop with the Pilgrims. It happened right here in the Catskills.

William Streeter came to the new world with his sister, Elizabeth, her husband, William Faulkner, and at least two of their children, William and Thomas Faulkner, who were William Streeter’s nephews, but were his same age. They settled in the Catskills, Greene County, Town of Lexington.
The following year, William married Mary Payne, also of Sussex. He brought his bride to Lexington, where they settled lands near his sister’s family.

William and Mary had three sons, John, James, and Anson. Anson seems to have gotten his parents’ farm. He died in Lexington. John and James migrated to Halcott, and to Griffin’s Corners, today’s Fleischmanns. Their descendants helped build our Catskill communities over many generations, and continue to do so.

William Streeter’s nephew, Thomas Faulkner, migrated to Roxbury, where, over a long life, he was married twice, to Sally Griffin, and Salacha Morse. Streeter, Faulkner, Griffin, Morse – certain names repeat, families long established in the Catskills, familiar today.

That is because settlement of the Catskills occurred in a trickle, followed by a rush, followed by a long period of stillness. It happens that way in agricultural regions, and, the western slope of the Catskills was a decidedly agricultural region, right up through the eighth decade of the 20th century. Land attracts settlers. Settlers come. Land fills up. Settlers stay.

The first settlers came in a trickle. They were Yorkers: colonials of the Hudson Valley seeking wood lots, bluestone quarries, new lands to clear. They were Dutch, Belgian Walloon, French Huguenot, first- and second-generation colonial Americans. A sawmill center grew in Woodstock. A stockade in Shandaken provided protection from the natives. Farms spread upward from the banks of the upper Delaware.

The rush came after the revolution, the time when William Streeter came to the Catskills from England. The Catskills were no longer the frontier they had been during the war. In the revolution, the Catskills were the wild buffer land between the patriots in the Hudson Valley and the loyalists and their native allies to the west.

Beyond the Catskills, the military tract, in central New York, was set aside to provide bounty lands for revolutionary war veterans. William Streeter’s uncle, Thomas Streeter, a Baptist minister, left Sussex, in fact, to settle in Steuben County, beyond the military tract. The frontier had moved well west of the Catskills.

But lands were still available here, some at very favorable lease terms, no money down and not much annual rent. Other lands in the Catskills could be bought outright, and, well, the mountains are high and the deed holder far away. A bit of squatting has always been a part of America’s growth.

In the 1790s and first decades of the 1800s, people moved into the Catskills. They cleared land behind oxen, grew wheat and flax, kept sheep and cows, had big kitchen gardens. Most came from the filled up farmlands of New England, looking for land, the squeezed-out sons and daughters of big Connecticut and Massachusetts families hemmed in by over development.

Some, like William Streeter, came from England. Many came from Scotland. In the years leading up to independence, 1763 to 1775, 40,000 Scots immigrated into America, along with 55,000 Scotch-Irish. The Scotch-Irish were Protestants from Ulster, in Northern Ireland, descendants of Scots who had settled Ireland a couple generations earlier.

These Scots and Scotch-Irish made up a large portion of the settlers who came into the Catskills after the revolution. They brought along their Scottish Presbyterianism, building Presbyterian Churches throughout the mountains. Later, when a great awakening of evangelical revivalism swept through New York State, Methodist Churches would rise to challenge the more settled Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed congregations.

Yorker, Yankee, English, Scots, Scotch-Irish, these settlers carved farms out of forest, cleared trees, built fences, walls, barns, homes. The forest receded, and available land became scarce. Settlement slowed.

Sure, people came and people left, but, for 150 years or so, population remained largely steady, new settlement at a stand still. One generation turned its land and its property to the next. Children grew into adults, married, stayed.

And families like the Streeters, Faulkners, Griffins, and Morses built communities, generation after generation, names familiar, through the mountains.
William Birns