Monday, April 4, 2011

The Original Settlers of Duanesburg

An interesting research question came across the librarian’s desk last week involving the original settlers of the town of Duanesburg. A researcher had read in a book on New York State history that in 1765 James Duane and twenty German families had made a contract and sixteen of these families moved up to Duanesburg, from where they had been living in Pennsylvania. Thus this book was claiming that these German families were the original settlers of Duanesburg. However, the researcher was questioning the accuracy of this piece of information because the book sourcing it was written in 1851.
I decided to investigate further, to see if other historians also indicated that German families were among the first settlers of the town. I determined that the best strategy was to see what past historians had said about German settlers in Duanesburg. I assembled the following list of “facts.”
·         A book published in 1886 stated that “about” twenty German families were invited to Duanesburg and sixteen actually moved
·         A history in 1906 only mentioned eleven families signing the agreement
·         A newsletter article by Lansing Christman from 1965 mentioned an agreement between Duane and nineteen German families
·         And in an article for the Gazette, Larry Hart seems to have agreed with the idea of about twenty families settling in Duanesburg
While everyone seems to be in agreement that German farmers were the first settlers, clearly there are many discrepancies in the facts, and particularly as to how many German families were involved in this agreement. This is not an uncommon snag for research relating to this period of study. Early historians rarely cited the sources of their information, therefore making it difficult for modern researchers to trace details back to the original.
However in this case we lucked out because, while compiling this list of historical opinions, I came across a piece of paper which solved the mystery. I found a transcription of part of the original agreement between Duane and twenty families (exactly twenty, not about twenty). The transcription only includes the names of the male heads of these twenty families, but it also lists those eight who actually signed the documents. So now, not only are we clear on the number of settlers, we also have their names.

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