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A Notable Home


An excerpt from "Historical Tablets and Markers of Glenville, N. Y." (Part Two)

The Tenth Report of the Town Historian

by Percy M. Van Epps

Submitted December, 1936 to the Town Board of Glenville, Schenectady County, New York

Transcribed as printed by Channon Moon

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Percy M. Van Epps, historian and author, and the sign that now stands at the site

of the Old Van Eps homestead near Hoffman's Ferry, NY.

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On the north side of the Mohawk Turnpike at Hoffman's, NY, and but a short distance east of the little stream here crosses the highway, the Van Eps Creek, a memorial, prepared by the State Education Department, will soon be placed near the site of a famous home continuously occupied by the Van Eps family for two centuries. Its inscription will record:

A NOTABLE HOME

HERE, BUILT ABOUT 1720,

STOOD THE FIRST HOUSE IN

THIS PART OF THE VALLEY,

HOME OF SEVEN GENERATIONS

OF THE VAN EPS FAMILY

Westward from Schenectady the rich flat lands of the Mohawk River, in the early days were distinguished and sold by numbers. The last of these areas on the north side of the river, in the Township of Schenectady was the seventh. This Seventh Flat embraced all the land between the Stream Tequatsera--now mapped as the Verf Kill--an the rocky bulk of Kinaquariones, the western boundary of the township. The northern boundary of this area it seems was rather hazy and indefinite, merely specified as the high hills bordering the river. Whether at their base or in their summits, no one seemed to know--nor care.

And here, on the western half of this Seventh Flat, was the Van Eps home, which the marker will commemorate. The manner of the acquisition of this home site of this Dutch family is as follows: In the closing years of the 17th century on Karel Haensen Toll, a Norwegian, and his wife, who was Lybetyea Rinckout, secured title to the entire Seventh Flat, a strip of rich alluvial soil bordering the river for two miles. Coming to this new possession, they at first lived in a dugout hollowed from the high eastern bank of the little stream spoken of above, and here we know that he and his wife, Lybetyea, lived for several years, at least. Finally, back from the brow of the bank, wherein the dugout, a large framed house was built, of rather odd and quaint design, conforming in style, perhaps, to inborn Norwegian ideals of its owner.

Karel Haensen Toll leaving his native land met with surprising adventures on his voyage to America. His vessel was captured by a privateer and he with others was taken to Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, where he was imprisoned in the fortress. After some little time in confinement, he with a fellow prisoner managed to evade the guards and make their way to the shore. Here, having seen a strange ship anchored some little distance out, they stripped and boldly plunged in the sea, hoping they might in some way reach this vessel. After swimming for some little time, Toll's companion cried out that he could go no further and forthwith turned back toward the shore. Toll, however, boldly kept his course toward the vessel, whose lights he could see and the sea fortunately being still he was able, after swimming for hours as it seemed to him, to reach the side of the vessel. Here he was seen and taken on board and given clothing and kindly treated. When pursuit and inquiry came in the morning, he was concealed by the captain, who finally safely landed him in New Netherlands, about the year 1680.

Karel Haensen Toll and his wife, Lybetyea, were among the first settlers of the region of Hoffman's, if indeed they were not actually the very first to make their home there. It is true that certain small parcels of land had been sold there slightly before Toll's purchase, but there is no record of any one actually living in that area prior to Toll's coming.

Enduring the privations and hardships of pioneer life in the then wild and uncleared region, the Tolls appeared to have lived for several years in their improvised and temporary dwelling, sort of a dugout; a long shed-like structure, well let into the steep bank of the valley of the little stream, its roof said to have been of slabs supported by long poles. Its front of logs faced the west, thus catching the full afternoon sun, and doubtless it was comfortable in winter and cool in the summer time.

And here, the fifth child was born to Karel and Lybetyea, Nailtje, or Nellie, who in 1720 became the wife of Johannes Van Eps and the mistress of the large new house built on the plateau above, the famous Van Eps home, the subject of this paper. This home, perhaps the earliest in the region, we find indicated and named--"Jo van Eps"-- on a map of the Mohawk Valley in 1757, prepared by a British Engineer during the French and Indian War. This is the only house honored by name on this map, between the Maalywyck at Scotia and the western limits of the Township of Schenectady, save that of Adam Swart.

Very soon after its construction Toll's dugout, his "cave" as he called it, became a favorite stopping place for many small parties of Mohawk Indians, always friendly to the early Dutch, passing to and from Schenectady and their nearest villages, some twenty miles up the valley. In their season, laden with packs of beaver and other peltry, destined for the shrewd traders of Schenectady and Albany, who gave in exchange, cloth, trinkets of many kinds, rum, powder and bullets--and sometimes guns, despite edicts of the law, these Indians threw down their packs before Toll's dugout, while Lybetyea regaled them with bread and cake.

The fame of Lybetyea's cookery soon became known to the women of the Mohawk villages up the river, and in the summertime it was not long before small canoes made of the tough bark of the slippery elm, such as were used by the Mohawk women, might be seen paddled down the river and deftly steered to a landing on the gravelly shore just below Karel's dugout, to which, two or three squaws carring their papooses, and with other children running along side, made their way. Here they were always kindly received by the sagacious and diplomatic Lybetyea, who shortly treated the dusky, chattering mothers with cakes and krullers, supplemented with some little gift of cloth, and for the children, tumbling and playing before the door, a few cheap and gaudy trinkets, finger rings and small strings of many-colored Venetian beads--made expressly for the Indian trade. These Lybetyea well knew, would appeal to the mothers as well as the children.

Meanwhile, with a twinkle in his eye, Kin-ge-go (The Fish) looked on, for this was the name, as it is recorded in the archives of the Toll family, bestowed upon Karel by his Mohawk friends after being told of his exploit battling the sea, off Puerto Cabello.

As the little group of shrewd Dutch Families left Fort Orange, now Albany, in 1661 and trekked over the pine barrens to the Mohawk river, founding the village of Schenectady, there better to intercept the red man with his pack of peltry, so likewise Karel, our canny Norwegian, went them one better, making his home in the Woestina (the wilderness), some ten miles west of "Dorp", for so the Dutch new Schenectady. Here, mainly due to Lybetyea's bread and cakes, he was able to select and barter for the choicest skins, before his rival traders had an opportunity to see them. Occasions he never let go by, an herein is the clue to the manner of his soon amassing the fortune that by 1712 enabled him to acquire and remove to valuable and extensive farms at the Maalywyck, the name then given a fertile area just west of Scotia, even today regarded as the very best farm lands of the entire lower Mohawk Valley. Here, at the Maalwyck, Toll was soon numbered among the prominent citizens of his region, being chosen a member of the Colonial Legislature in 1716, serving thus continuously until 1726.

It is related by Dr. Daniel J. Toll, a direct descendant of Karel, in his history of the family, a work printed in 1847, but now well-nigh unobtainable, that so great was the clamor and demand of the Indian trappers for Lybetyea's bread and cakes, that she frequently walked to Schenectady, there buying a skipple of wheat (three pecks) at the town mill, which, ground into flour she would carry on her back or shoulder all the weary ten miles to her home in the Woestina.

In October of the year 1720, Nailtje, daughter of Karel and Lybetyea, was married to Johannes Van Eps of Schenectady, oldest son of Jan Baptist Van Eps (" The Interpreter") and his wife Helena Glen. In April of the following year, 1721, Karel and Lybetyea, by reason of "Love and Affection,"--thus state the deed--gave to the newly-wed couple title to the western half of the Seventh Flat. Therefore, from this year, 1721, we can date the foundation of the Van Eps family at Hoffmans--a place known to the Dutch simply as the Woestina till 1790, when, on the establishment there of a ferry across the Mohawk, by Harmanus Vedder, it became known as Vedders Ferry till 1835, when the name was changed to Hoffmans Ferry.

Photo of an original painting of the Van Eps Homestead by ? Schultz.

Contributed by Ronald Moore.

And here, as the marker will state, on that pleasant home site, the gift of Karel Haensen Toll, have lived seven successive generations of the Van Eps family. The original house, of quaint design and timber work of rich red cherry, the hollows of its walls tightly packed with clay, was unfortunately destroyed by fire on August 15, 1924. Three branches of the family, however, including the Seventh generation from Johannes, are still living in separate new houses on the original domain given by Toll in 1720, and other descendants can be found in almost every state of the Union; and abroad, even in far-off China.

The line of the seven generations of the Van Eps family, beginning with Johannes, occupants of this notable Mohawk Valley home, is as follows:

Johannes, born 1700, married Nailtje Toll

Jan Baptist, born 1731, married Annatje Vedder

Albert, born 1788, married Anna Swart

Peter Van Vranken, born 1825, married Mary A. Davenport

David Augustus, born 1854, married Anna Van Loan

Jewett Edwin, born 1879, married Maud V. Houghton

Roger Houghton, born 1912.

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