From Nov. 18, 1971:

After a duration of time, familiar places assume a portion of the background, so, it is with this in mind we recall the old stone block house near the Boston and Albany railroad tracks at Chatham Centre. A weathered, low-roofed stone building, diminutive in size, this structure was once the heaven of safety for the early settlers.

In 1681 Governor Andros granted all the lands bordering the Kinderhook creek in this vicinity to three families, the Van Alstynes, Van Allens and Huycks.

A little hamlet of log houses followed and the block house was built in the center. It was solidly constructed with apertures between the logs for firearms. A cold spring of water was nearby.

In these early days the Indians were restless and frequently would invade the peaceful settlement. The men tilled the broad level fields which spread out at some distance from the fort. The farmers frequently were obliged to hurry their families to the protection of the block house.

There is still retold the legend of Josina Dingman of Albany, who, in 1704, became the bride of Peter Van Allen. Peter brought the vivacious bride here to live.

It was soon afterwards that the Indians took to the war path and all the women and children were hurried inside the fort. The men, well armed, went as usual to the fields to work, leaving “Old Mose,” a black man as custodian of the block house.

Josina had made sure her dowry and gifts were safely inside. She breathed a sigh of thankfulness and pride as she gazed at her new, blue-painted “dasher” churn.

Her eyes casually strayed through the doorway towards the field. She thought she saw the bushes along the creek move. At the same instant “Old Mose” who was chopping wood outside the door, sprang up into the air pierced by arrows and fell dead. Josina did not take time to scream, she swing the bar into place. Then she made a quick survey to be sure all the people were accounted for.

By this time the Indians, in full war regalia, were swarming around the fort. The men were some distance away and must be warned. On the roof of the fort a large gun was mounted ready to be used to signal an emergency. Although the women folk were well used to this procedure to load and fire the gun, it was regarded as “men’s work.” Hurrying to the gun, Josina discovered some meddlesome person had thoughtlessly mislaid the ram rod. Josina’s thoughts raced desperately of her husband and the others in danger of being massacred.

She turned in fright wondering what to do. Then her eyes rested on the little blue churn. She quickly grabbed the “dasher” and, using the handle, as a ram, fired the gun again and again. It was a short, bitter battle, many of the Indians were slain and the others retreated into the woods.

This story has been handed down many generations with pride in their ancestors’ resourcefulness and bravery.

That night, when it had grown very dark, Peter Van Allen took his young bride behind him on a horse and made his way to Stuyvesant. Here he uncovered a hidden canoe on the river. He paddled to Albany where he left the heroic Josina with her people until peace reigned again along the Kinderhook.

The years passed along and the block house having served its purpose and standing idle, became the property of one Nathan Peckham. The port holes were replaced with deep recessed windows. Many times it has changed ownership, but the legend of Josina persists and an historical marker recalls the little building as a fort during the early days of Chatham Centre.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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