Warner, Mathias Family

From Helderberg Hilltowns of Albany County, NY
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Portion of 1787 survey map by Wm. Cockburn for Van Rensselaer
  • ~1765 Warners moved with the Zeh Family to the Beaver Dam from Schoharie about 1765 and settled between what are now the hamlet of Berne and East Berne. The two families built a sawmill on the Foxenkill just upstream from the intersection of Turner Road with Helderberg Trail. Warner's Sawmill was operated by both the Warners and the Zehs according to 1787 Van Rensselaer records.

The Warners and Zehs did not originally lease their land from the Van Rensselaers. Rather, they were squatters, as were all early Berne settlers, on a vast tract of land that had been granted by the Dutch to the Van Rensselaer family in 1629. The VR land in the Hudson Valley was leased long term, but never sold. About the time of the Revolutionary War the VR family became aware that squatters from Schoharie and elsewhere had made themselves at home in the wilderness above the Helderberg Escarpment.

  • 1787 Stephen Van Rensselaer III had William Cockburn survey his land in the Helderbergs. The purpose was to force leases on the squatters who had been living there rent free, some of them for almost half a century, and to mark 160 square acre lots on the vacant land prior to seeking renters. Survey notes for Lot 564, the site of the present day Pine Grove Park residential area, says: "This is a Middling good Lot, Well Watered by the foxen Kill on which is a fine Sawmill, with a gang of Saws. The Werners & See's [Zeh Family|Zehs] are the Chief proprietors of it. Chiefly Pine & Oak Timber."

“Werner” is the original German spelling of Warner. “See” is an alternative English spelling of Zeh. Names in quotes are the spelling in the original document.]

  • 1787 survey map (see illustration) shows the Warner and Zeh sawmill on the bank of Fox Creek on the western edge of the 71 acre lot 564. The lot’s irregular shape indicates that it was settled by squatters before the survey. “H. See” lived on the adjoining Lot 584 to the east. Between Helderberg Trail and the Foxenkill was the north part of Lot 565 farmed by “Christian See.”

The south part of Lot 565, on the south side of the Foxenkill, was the farm of “Johannis Werner.” He also farmed the east part of Lot 585 which was just west of Warners Lake. The accompanying illustration does not show the three lots his brother Christopher Warner had on the north side of the Lake. The 1787 survey map shows “H. Werner” on Lot 581 east part (upper left corner of illustration). Cockburn’s survey notes say "This land in Lot 581 is very poor and lies chiefly on the north side of a very steep hill. It is well watered by the Foxenkill on the north side of which the land is middling good. Henry Warner has got a part of his improvement on it. Beech, maple some elm and fine timber."

Just to the east is Lot 582 of which the survey or reported: “This is a good lot and is well watered by the Vosenkill [ Foxenkill ]. Henry Warner has got a framed house and barn and a fine improvement on this lot. Beech, maple and hemlock timber." A Van Rensselaer record dated Sept. 10, 1790 notes "Henry Warner's property leased. John H. Warner his son owns it."

Henry Warner was the brother of Christopher and Johannes. His house is probably the “1795” house opposite the Hilltowns Senior Center. Although a Berne Historical Society officer says it was built by a Zeh, the Van Rensselaer lease records and 1787 survey map indicate the house was built prior to 1787 by Henry Warner.

Henry, Christopher, and Johannes were three of five sons of Mathias Warner Sr. who was born 1707 in Württemberg, Germany. Mathias’ father, Christopher Warner, was one of hundreds of refugee families from the Palatinate area of Germany brought over by the English in 1710. They were to be resettled in the wilderness on the frontier in upstate New York to serve as a buffer between the English settlements along the Hudson, and the French and Indians to the west and in Canada. But first, to pay back the cost of their transportation and subsistence, they were to endure years of forced labor in a work camp on the Hudson devoted to the production of tar for the British Navy. When this operation failed in 1712, Christopher Warner, along with the Zehs and more than a hundred other families, sought refuge in the Schoharie Valley.

  • <1787 all five of Mathias Warner's sons were living in what is now the Town of Berne. His younger son, Philip, was 20-years old when he was confirmed at the Beaver Dam reformed church in 1767. Since he was single and undoubtedly living at home, it is likely that his father, Mathias Warner, moved his family to Beaver Dam by 1765 when the Warner and Zeh sawmill was established. The 1866 Beers map of Berne shows an “F. & S. Mill” (Feed and Sawmill) in the same location. The mill buildings were likely used into the early 20th-Century. Today, the remains of the millpond dam and wooden flume, as well as the foundations of the mill buildings, can still be seen at the site.
  • 1777 - On the eastern part of the sawmill lot was the Zeh and Warner families burying ground with the earliest known burial 1777. The Zehs and Warners were instrumental in the 1790 incorporation of the Lutheran Church in Beaver Dam. July 1797 the church leased lot 564 where the sawmill and burying ground were located. Using planks sawed at the mill, a frame church was constructed near the burying ground, now known as the Pine Grove Cemetery.
  • 1787 survey map of Berne shows no buildings and no one living near what is now the hamlet of East Berne.
  • 1791 Johannes Werner Sr. leased the 126 acre Lot 546 where the hamlet of East Berne is now located. Willis Warner, in his 1954 compilation of records on the “Descendents of Christopher Warner”, says it was on two acres of this lot that Johannes, in partnership with his brother Christopher, built a gristmill. His source is not clear. The hamlet that formed around the mill was called Warner’s mill until 1825 when the East Berne Post Office was established.
  • 1822 Johannes Warner’s lease on Lot 546 was inherited by his son Johannes Jr. who in 1838 sold it to Lehman Lobdell.
  • 1854 map of Berne shows in the hamlet of East Berne a gristmill owned by Lobdell on the outlet for Warners Lake, and a sawmill on Fox Creek behind the current East Berne Fire House.
  • 1866 Beers map of Berne shows ...
  • 1936?? - NYS Historical Marker, half-way between the two mills, supposedly identifies the location of the 1765 Warners' mill. However, as Van Rensselaer lease records make clear, it was about 1791 the Warners established their sawmill in East Berne.

This raises the question of who built the 1765 sawmill between Berne and East Berne. It may well have been Mathias Warner and Johannes Zeh Jr., both of whom moved their families from Schoharie to Beaver Dam by 1765 and settled on the farms surrounding the mill site.

Mathias Warner, whose father Christopher was one of the original settlers in Schoharie, settled as a squatter in Berne about 1765 when he built a sawmill on the Foxenkill just south of the intersection of Turner Road and Helderberg Trail. By 1787 the mill was being operated by his son Johannes and the Zeh Family.

Mathias' son Christopher homesteaded the land at the north end of Warners Lake before 1787 and built the present house before 1800. The 1854 map of Berne shows a sawmill just north of his house. It is probable he built the mill and then sawed the lumber for his house.