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Schenectady heirlooms come home

"These things had been in the family for hundreds of years," said Mary Chatfield. "I was so afraid something would happen to them " robbery, a fire, whatever " and I felt that they needed to come back where they belong."

Laurens acted as an interpreter between the Colonial government and the Native Americans during the 18th century. During the Schenectady Massacre he was captured by Native Americans and brought back to Canada. For 10 years he lived with the Native Americans before returning to Schenectady.

"He is a hugely important person in Schenectady politics during that time period," said Weller.

Nobody at the society had ever heard about the painting before Mary contacted the society to arrange a donation. Another rare item in the collection is a prayer book from 1715, which is believed to still be in the original bindings and Laurens' personal copy.

The prayer book is one of only seven left in existence, and the books are in Mohawk language because Laurens translated them from English language versions. This only adds to the already impressive collection of local artifacts.

"It is so rare to have a collection that is so complete," said Weller.

Chatfield said the painting of Laurens would probably have been hung in a tavern originally, and she also had a tale to go along with it.

"The old Native Americans would come in, probably after his death, and kneel down in front of his portrait and cry because they loved him," she said.

Residents can enjoy the painting and the rest of the exhibition through Nov. 1 at the Historical Society's museum at 32 Washington Ave., Schenectady. For information, call 374-0263.

"It is not likely to happen in the near future that all these paintings will be together again," said Curran.""

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