By Dan Weaver
Before he was 80, Robert Sixberry had killed more than 2,200 deer, not for sport but because he earned his livelihood from hunting, trapping and fishing. Born in Amsterdam on March 6, 1763, Sixberry moved to the Town of LeRay in Jefferson County when he was 14. Eventually, he married Elizabeth Huber, from Herkimer County.
He liked his alcohol. When he was 80, he got drunk, fell into the fireplace and had to have a leg amputated because of his injuries. Following his death, a November 5, 1873, Watertown Re-Union article remarked wryly, “Had he been a man of temperate habits he might have lived to a good old age and seen his children grow up, instead of passing away at the premature age of 109 years and 7 months.”
William Sixberry was the son of Manasseh Sixberry who, in the seventeenth century, emigrated from London to Schenectady where he married a Dutch woman, Pieterje Janse Jonckers, in 1699. He was illiterate. When Manasseh died in 1709 during military service at Fort Nicholson (Fort Edward), his will divided his land three miles west of Schenectady between his children.
William moved to what was then called the Mohawk Country (Maquaasland) around 1720, settling on the banks of the Mohawk River in what is now the East End of the City of Amsterdam. His house is labeled with his name on a 1758 map. Sixberry may have been the earliest white person to live within the boundaries of what is now the City of Amsterdam. He married Maria Catharina Smit of Schenectady and their first child Anna Lysbet, baptized January 19, 1724, may have been the first white child born in what is now the City of Amsterdam. They had several other children.
According to historian Max Reid, the Sixberrys spread throughout the Town of Amsterdam and were a “shiftless lot.” I prefer to call them poor. Some of the Sixberry girls, however, married well. Also securing honor for the family were five Sixberry men who served under Frederick Visscher in the Third Regiment of the Tryon County Militia during the American Revolution — William’s sons, Adam, Cornelius, and Hendrick and his grandsons Cornelius, Jr. and Benjamin Sixberry.
Reid tells a story of a Sixberry woman, known as Mammy, that does not reflect well on Amsterdam’s leading families of the 19th Century. According to Reid, Mammy lived in a log hut on the banks of Bunn Creek behind what is now 80 Locust Avenue when the area was still woods. She held a big party to which she invited all the gentry of the Village of Amsterdam. They saw it as a lark, a chance to go “slumming,” and members of the Sanford, Cochrane, Reid, Van Derveer and other prominent families attended. Writes Reid, “…it is said that the hostess never fully recovered from the expense of the party and was an object of charity every afterwards.”
While all the Montgomery County Sixberrys probably descended from Manasseh, Robert’s relationship to William in unclear. He does appear to be the most famous of the Sixberrys. Robert was friends with the famous Adirondack hunter and trapper, Nat Foster (the model for James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking).
Robert outlived two log cabins that rotted, never bothering to build a frame house. He hated civilization. When he died on October 23, 1878, it was thought he was the oldest person in New York State, and the youngest of his eight children was 60. During the last year of his life, he went target shooting but did not like the Springfield rifle he used. Sixberry Lake is named after him.
It’s not clear what happened to William. The 1792 report of the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company, a survey of the Mohawk River, mentions the Groat’s house in Cranesville and Albert Vedder’s mills on the Chuctanunda in Amsterdam, but doesn’t mention Sixberry’s house. The 1790 census shows three of William’s sons — Adam, Cornelius and Hendrick — living in Caughnawaga. Grandson Benjamin lived to 100 and ended up in the poor house in Glen with three other Sixberrys. A William Sixberry died at Caughnawaga in 1792, but we cannot be sure it was our William.
William settled in Amsterdam only eight years after the Groats settled in Cranesville and almost 60 years before Albert Vedder settled here. It was Vedder however, a miller by trade, who realized the potential of the Chuctanunda Creek, purchased a large portion of land on both sides of it and founded a permanent settlement we now call the City of Amsterdam.
Dan Weaver is a resident of the town of Florida and owns a business in the city of Amsterdam.