When there was a wall: Kingston’s stockade

The Miller map.

The Miller map.

Accurate descriptions of Kingston’s original stockade, built between 1658 and 1677, have eluded historians for centuries. And no wonder. The definitive 1695 original “Miller map” of the area went to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean after its creator’s ship was attacked by French privateers. The Rev. John Miller, who survived capture, later re-created the map from memory.

Local history buff and author Ted Dietz told this whale of a tale at the 23rd episode of the Kingston’s Buried Treasures series at the Senate House on Fair Street in Kingston last Friday night.

Dietz detailed Miller’s appointment in 1692 as chaplain to British forces in “New York Territory.” One of the Anglican minister’s duties was mapping the several forts the British had established along the Hudson and Mohawk rivers after taking possession of the former Dutch colony in 1664. One of those forts was located in Kingston, said Dietz, “with six guns lined up on [what would become] Main Street.”

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Miller, who held a doctorate in theology from Edinburgh University in Scotland, walked the streets and byways of the Kingston stockade and consulted recorded deeds in order to produce an accurate map. He also took notes on local animals, fish and faun, with the intention of writing a book about New York.

Having completed his work, Miller sailed from New York harbor in 1695. As his records contained “ticklish information about guns and such,” Miller, for security reasons, threw everything overboard when the French attacked. After being released, Miller journeyed to London, where he reconstructed his records and maps from memory. Those records, filed in the Bishop of London’s archives, remained undiscovered in the British Museum until 1843.

“So, for a period of almost 150 years, nobody saw a map of the stockade,” Dietz told his audience. He did not indicate whether anybody else had made maps of the area during that time. A London publisher issued the first book containing the map in 1862. Schoonmaker’s 1888 history of Kingston makes extensive use of the Miller map.

Dietz said he doubted whether anyone could accurately recall exact details on an area of several hundred acres with more than 50 parcels. “We know mistakes were made,” he said. “Miller had Wall Street connecting to North Front Street from John Street, and deeds on file clearly show that didn’t happen before 1830. In fact, the deed filed by the father of John Vanderlyn [the artist] in the 1770s shows that house in the middle of Wall Street at John Street.

“The fact is, it’s the only map we have from that era, and it’s believed to be largely accurate. Some things we just don’t know.” Dietz said there was no description on the size of the lots — only their owners — on the Miller document. Streets remained officially unnamed into the early 18th century.

One indisputable service Miller provided for future generations was to accurately record lot owners (from deeds filed in the stockade courthouse at the time and available to the public in the Ulster County Clerk’s office on Fair Street). Names like Hendrick (the smith) Schoonmaker, Jan (the carpenter) Jansen, Andries (the weaver) Barentsen, Casther the Norman and two men named Stuyvesant speak to a working-class settlement.

A perusal of the lot owners connects some dots in Kingston history. “Lot No. 1,” deeded to Wiltwyck founder Thomas Chambers, was located nearest to the nearby Esopus Creek. Chambers operated a brewery on his property and needed close proximity to fresh water. He hired Native American labor to work his farm along the creek, Dietz said, and paid in spirits. Indian drunkenness, as recorded elsewhere, may have been a factor in hostilities between settlers and natives.

The stockade, ordered and laid out by Dutch governor Peter Stuyvesant in 1658 following an Indian uprising, was extended three times. The original stockade enclosed North Front Street, John and Wall streets. In 1661 the west boundary was extended to Green Street (where the Hoffman House restaurant stands). The 1669-70 extension moved the south boundary 300 feet south from John Street. The final extension in 1677 moved the south wall to Main Street, site of the orginal Old Dutch Church.

Dietz, who is 91, became ill toward the end of the scheduled hour-long lecture and was unable to finish. Lecture moderator Paul O’Neill wrapped up before calling emergency services to examine the speaker. Dietz was able to return to his nearby home unattended. “It could have been a case of lector anxiety,” an EMT joked afterwards. Dietz later blamed a passing incident of vertigo.

“Ted is a terrific historian, very dedicated to his work,” said a relieved O’Neill. “We are fortunate to have such people in our community who take an active interest in our history.” Dietz is a retired New York City policeman who moved to Kingston in 1969.

 

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