Francis Adrian Van der Kemp

Francis Adrian Van der Kemp, 1752-1829 (Fairchild, 1903)
Francis Adrian Van der Kemp, (Fairchild, 1903)

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
    by Gary M. Comins
  • Francis Adrian Van der Kemp
    by Janette Dunnigan
  • Kempwick
    by Tom Pierce

    • New York State Department of Education
      Historical Marker
    • Timeline



One of the first prominent settlers from the Cleveland area was Francis Adrian Van der Kemp.  This blog post features two summaries written by Janette Dunnigan and Tom Pierce regarding Mr. Van der Kemp.  Additionally, the Library of Congress has released Helen Lincklaen Fairchild’s book Francis Adrian Van der Kemp, 1752-1829 into the public domain and can be downloaded for free in several formats from the Internet Archive or through Google Books.


Francis Adrian Van der Kemp
by Janette Dunnigan
September 12, 1988

Francis Adrian Van der Kemp moved to Oneida Lake in 1794, after selling his farm near Kingston, where he had settled on his arrival in America from Holland.  He was 42 years old, his wife Reinira was 48, their three children, John, Betsy and Peter were 11, 9, and 5.  He had purchased 1,000 acres from George Scriba and had spent the summer building his new home, Kempwick.

His house was 60’x22′, made of logs, three rooms in front, the middle one a hall with a staircase.  Separate from the house was a kitchen and wing for the negro servants.  The barn was of Dutch construction, solid and secure, 60’x26′, 6′ high at the eaves and 18′ at the center posts.  The chicken house was 16′ square with a loft for pigeons.

Francis was a brilliant, well educated man, a graduate of the University of Groningen and the Amsterdam Baptist Seminary.  He was the pastor of the Leyden Church for ten years, resigning when he became more and more involved in the political and religious unrest in Holland.  In 1780 John Adams was in Holland to gain support for America.  He heard about Van der Kemp and invited him to a meeting where they formed a friendship that lasted their lifetime.

In 1787 Francis was arrested and imprisoned for his involvement in the Patriots and the Free Corps.  His friends paid his heavy fine and Francis was sentenced “to leave immediately the State and Providence of Utrecht, never to return.”  He fled Holland and on March 25, 1788, Francis, Reinira and their two children sailed from Havre and arrived in New York the 4th of May, the 36th birthday of Francis Adrian.

The Van der Kemps became naturalized citizens in 1789.  Francis purchased the farm near Kingston and in October Peter, his youngest son was born.

Before moving to Oneida Lake Francis formed many friendships in his new country.  Washington invited him to Mt. Vernon; he visited Jefferson and Franklin.  The prominent New Yorkers, Alexander Hamilton, Gov. George Clinton, Melancethon Smith were all friendly with the Van der Kemps.

The years at Oneida Lake were hard.  It was still a wilderness; settlers were so few and far between.  The Van der Kemps made fast friends of the Bernhards and Scribas, but the land was poor and the swamps unhealthy.  Reinira’s health became so bad Francis gave up his dreams of his estate and in the early winter of 1797 they moved to Oldenbarneveld where they lived their remaining years.

Francis returned many times to visit his old friends, the Scribas and the Bernhards.  In 1815 Francis and Betsy visited Oneida Lake as Mrs. John Bernhard wanted to see them because she thought it might be her last summer.  In 1819 Francis returned “to bid a last farewell to a friend decaying in mind and body.”  This was John Bernhard.

September 6, 1828, Reinira died in her 81st year and a year later Francis visited George Scriba at Oneida Lake and died a week after his return, September 7, 1829.

Kempwyk Historical Marker (K. Darrow)
Kempwyk Historical Marker (K. Darrow)
2013 Residence on Kempwyk Site (G. Comins)
2013 Residence on former Kempwyk Site (G. Comins)

by Tom Pierce
September 2013

New York State Department of Education Historical Marker

The marker is located on the north side of NYS Route 49, 1.5 miles west of the Cleveland Post Office or .5 miles of the cannon at Bernhards Bay.  About 200 feet north of the sign one can see a white house.  It is located on the site of the original home built by Francis Adrian Van der Kemp.  None of the original building, built in 1794, has survived.  It is believed he was the third or fourth settler on Oneida Lake.  His estate consisted of 1,000 acres which he purchased from George Scriba.  The plan was to establish a large estate, an extremely difficult task since every item had to be transported up the Hudson then the Mohawk to Rome, over a portage to Wood Creek, down Wood Creek to Oneida Lake then by bateaux or flat boat to the north shore and this site.  Since nothing remains of the original site, one must look to this remarkable man for clues as to what transpired here from 1792 until Mr. Van der Kemp and his family left in the early winter of 1797.


The story of Van der Kemp’s life is monumentally significant in the history of the United States.  The following are just a few things regarding his life that I hope will cause you to learn more about this early scholar.  Perhaps his most notable contributions to this country was his idea of a canal across the state.  The Erie Canal provided the transportation to “Open the West” the beginning of making the country what it is today.

Date Detail
1752 Born in the Netherlands.
1780 Minister of the Mennonite Church at Leyden, Netherlands, [the] richest church in Europe.
1781 Meets John Adams and his two sons, John Quincy and Thomas.  Later [in] 1788 until death he visits with Adams at Boston many times.
1786 Jailed for political writings.
1788 Arrives in New York City, has letters of introduction from Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, Knox, Clinton, Smith and Tappan.
1788 Visits Washington at Mt. Vernon.
1792 On an early expedition to Oneida Lake, [Francis] kept a detailed diary containing his keen observations to DeWitt Clinton for his use in working on the original Erie Canal.  Later Clinton said Van der Kemp was the first person to suggest a canal across the state.  Keep in mind Van der Kemp was from the Netherlands, the land of canals.
1794 Moved to Oneida Lake from [his] farm on Esopus Creek in the Hudson Valley.
1797 Moved to Barneveld, New York

The last paragraph of Harry Jackson’s book, Scholar in the Wilderness, is very insightful as to what kind of a person Van der Kemp must have been.

He had contacts but not powerful.  He advised but did not command.  He was able to relate the past to the present and to the future in a comprehensive fashion envied by John Adams as a sharp contrast to his own admittedly superficial and narrow view.  He influenced the thought of our early leaders when it made a difference.

[Tom’s] information for this work was taken from the following sources:

  1. Fairchild, Helen Lincklaen. Francis Adrian Van der Kemp 1752-1829. G.P. Putney & Sons, 1903.
  2. Historical Marker New York State Department of Eduction
  3. Internet
  4. Jackson, Harry F. Scholar in the wilderness: Francis Adrian Van der Kemp. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1963.
  5. Wagner. Oneida County

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