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Remembering Niskayuna's Antje Spoor

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Remembering Niskayuna's Antje Spoor

Samuel Sexton's "Schenectady Massacre"
Samuel Sexton's "Schenectady Massacre"

 

On the morning of Feb. 9, 1690 - also a Sunday morning - New Yorkers woke up to the news that Schenectady had been attacked by the French and their Indian allies.

Of course, in those days news didn't travel as fast as it does now, but we know that Simon Schermerhorn jumped on his horse, headed to Albany and got there by 5 a.m. to warn the settlers of what he thought might be an impending attack on their town. And we can assume at some point that someone jumped on a horse and rode to Kingston to tell the people there of the Schenectady Massacre, and maybe by Sunday night, but I'm guessing not until sometime Monday, word had reached New York City.

Schenectady was the western frontier in those days, and most all of the other New Yorkers were living close to the Hudson River around Albany, Kingston and New York City. There were farms scattered throughout the Hudson Valley, like Peter Bronck's place in Coxsackie, and the Spoor farm in Niskayuna a couples miles west of where the Mohawk flows into the Hudson.

Jan Wybesse Spoor, believed to be the first of his family to arrive in America, purchased some land in Niskayuna from Schenectady's Johannes Clute in 1685 and began farming where the Lisha Kill runs into the Mohawk. He and his wife, Anna Marie Hanse, had six children at the time of the attack, and one them, Antje, just happened to be spending that Saturday night at a friend's house in Schenectady.

We don't know if Simon Schermerhorn stopped at the Spoor farm in Niskayuna on his way to Albany to tell Jan Wybesse Spoor what had happened. Yes, it's sort of on the way, but he would have had to veer south at some point and maybe his first priority was getting to Albany at all costs. Regardless, Schermerhorn didn't know all the details when he jumped on his horse and rode to Albany. He didn't know that 60 of his fellow citizens had been killed - 38 men and boys, 10 women and 12 children - and he didn't know that Spoor's daughter Antje would be included in that list of casualties.

There were some heroic story lines created that night, such as Schermerhorn's ride or Adam Vrooman's staunch defense of his home, but the overwhelming sense one gets from the Massacre is tragic. Along with the 60 people killed, 27 were taken captive and headed back north to Canada with the French and Indians. When the Spoors woke up that Sunday morning they must have recoiled in horror when they looked to the west and saw smoke rising. Jan and his oldest boy, Johannes, probably got on their horses and went on their own mad dash hoping for the best but dreading the worst. Unfortunately what they found was horrific. Schenectady had been attacked and plenty of people had been killed, including Jan's 14-year-old daughter and Johannes' sister, Antje.

The close study of history can often teach us about the failings of man. It was 330 years ago this week that because of an ongoing dispute between England and France on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, 60 people were killed right here in upstate New York. It seems like such a waste of life. That's why we look at history; to learn from it and hopefully avoid such devastation in the future.

So we learn from our history and we remember. In my family, we're not about to forget the Schenectady Massacre. While Feb. 8 also just happens to be my wife's birthday, it is also true that she, through her mother's line, is a direct descendant of Jan Wybesse Spoor. How's that for a connection? When the Hudson River Way Pedestrian Bridge was built in 2002 her parents were ready. The pedestrian walkway that connects downtown Albany with the Hudson River - it is 650-feet long and 24 feet wide - includes a number of personalized bricks on its surface that individual citizens sponsored to help defray the cost of the structure. One of those bricks bears the name of Niskayuna teenager Antje Spoor.