February 8, 1690: Symon Schermerhoorn’s ride

ON a winter’s night of long ago,
The snow lay deep, the wind did blow Symon
In fitful gusts that wildly shrieked,
The roof tiles rattl’d — timbers creaked,
The shutters tugged at latch and hinge,
The whole house shook, it seem’d to cringe
‘Neath the savage blasts that winter’s night,
As wild beasts do when sore affright.
‘As nodding he sat ‘fore the chimney brest’
A blast more fierce than those before
Wrench’d the windows and sprung the door:
The noise outside and wild wind screams
Startled the Burgher from peaceful dreams,
As nodding he sat ‘fore the chimney brest
With eyes half clos’d and chin on chest,
Glanced at th’ clock that stately stands,
Marking the time with tireless hands,
“The hour is late,” he softly said,
“Vrouw, go put the children to bed.
” Quick return, and ere we retire
We’ll chat awhile by open fire.”
Up rose the Burgher, pipe in hand,
Walked to the window, took a stand
Where he could scan the village street,
He thought he caught the sound of feet;
He seem’d to see, through frosted pane,
A horse’s shape, its tangled mane,
Foaming nostrils, blood-matted hair,
And steaming breath on th’ cold night air,
The face of rider, pinched and drawn ;
Another blast — the phantom’s gone.
Hand to brow in a troubled way,
With nod and wink that seem’d to say
He didn’t believe in ghosts and such,
Phlegmatic, indeed, the hardy Dutch.
With shuffling gait and puzzled air,
He wanders back to his easy chair
And to vrouw, return’d to fireside,
He tells the story of Symon’s ride.
“Mingled with many an anguished cry’
Said he : ” Not many have heard the tale
Of Symon’s ride o’er the River Trail,
On that fatal night, so long ago,
When Corlaer Town was all aglow,
And wanton flames roared to the sky,
Mingled with many an anguished cry
From grey-haired men, and women who
Strove to hide their babes from view ;
Mothers heavy drew no quarter,
Blood in streams flow’d there like water.
” Brave indeed are men who fight
Helpless women in the night.
‘Twas sixteen ninety — that’s the date,
Oft I’ve heard old men relate
How Symon, wounded deep in thigh,
Rode through snow, piled mountain high,
In scanty garb on crippled steed,
None could do a braver deed ;
Six long hours of untold strain,
Six long hours of fearful pain,
” As fierce cold bit the gaping wound,
Ever onward — then he swooned
At old North Gate by riverside,
Where jaded horse lay down and died,

And Symon’s lips, op’d as in death,
Releas’d the words, with falt’ring breath,
That warned the Burghers dwelling here,
Causing the brave to shrink with fear
As he told the fate of Corlaer Town ;
How French and Indian burn’d it down,
” Slew sixty odd, both young and old, —
He swooned away, his tale half told.
Those were the days when Dutchmen fought,
With Fate for foothold, dearly bought,
And beaver pelts served as gold,
For goods the Dutch to Maquaas sold ;
When beacon’s flash, from mountain height,
Bore ghastly message, through the night,
That tomahawk and scalping knife
Again did menace limb and life.
“A savage pack, from the North they came,
They’d have come in vain, — mores the shame,
If stockade gates had been bolt’d tight
When Schenectady slept that winter’s night:
But men will quarrel, though wrong or right,
So gates swung wide — a factional fight.
What saith the Bible on yon shelf,
Of house divided ‘gainst itself,
‘ Shall surely fall,’ and great the pity,
What’s true of house is true of city.
“By stealth they came, through River Gate —
Twould almost seem that hand of Fate
Made easy road for the frozen horde,
It’s not recorded they thank’d the Lord, —
With wild warwhoop they fiercely slew,
E’en babes and children, and mothers, too;

Left was but one alive and free,
Of all that old Dutch companie,
Save Sander Glen and a widow that
Bore the ancient name of Bradt.
The one that stood alive and free,
Brave remnant of Schinnectady,
Who won his life, his spurs as well,
Fought o’er his dead wife where she fell,
And dying child that by her side,
Called to its mother, gasp’d and died —
Was Adam Vrooman — forgot of fame,
Who fought to end, through smoke and flame,
To find at last that he stood alone,
For naught remained but stricken home,
“And glory, the brave man ever wins,
Who fights his fight — bears on and grins.
The legend tells how a drunken crew-
Drank deep that night of Douw Aukes’ brew,
In The Tavern on State and old Mill Lane,
How the Indians slaughtered the very same;
Like sheep in a shamble kill’d them there,
And lifted each gory scalp and hair, —
Ah ! ’twas a terrible massacre.”

– Harry Roy Sweny

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