the results of research about the history of the town of Schaghticoke
April 12, 2013Posted by on
Most people in Schaghticoke are familiar with the Diver Library, donated to the village by Alexander and Arvilla Diver around 1940. This post is about the Divers who lived in Schaghticoke about 1800, Andrew and Eve. Eve was born in the 1740’s in Dutchess County, part of a large family which had come to the New World from what is now Germany. Andrew Diver probably immigrated to the area from Great Britain as a young man. Andrew and Eve Overocker married about 1760 in Kingston and moved to the Schaghticoke/Pittstown border area just before the Revolution. Eve’s family moved as well. There are still Overockers in the area. By 1800, Andrew was one of the ten wealthiest men in town, as was Eve’s brother, Jacob Overocker. Andrew’s wealth of over $10,000 was primarily in real estate. He and Eve had seven children.
Andrew died without a will in 1809, and Eve died just months later. They are buried in the Lutheran Cemetery at the junction of Melrose-Valley Falls Road and Northline Drive in Melrose. Since they died without wills, the estate of Andrew and Eve had to be inventoried and go through probate. One interesting insight gained in looking at the file is that neither Eve nor her eldest son Michael could write- both signed legal documents with an X.
Andrew’s widow, Eve, was named administratrix of the estate, along with her brother Martin Overocker; Jacob Yates, son of the local Revolutionary War Colonel; and James Brookins, himself an officer in the Green Mountain Boys, and now a neighbor. John and Henry Grawberger, Jr., “two competent persons,” acted as appraisers.
Settling the estate was certainly complicated by its size and by the death of Eve just a few months later. It was still not settled in September 1813, when Martin Overocker, who now had chief control of the affairs of the estate said he had a “bodily indisposition,” and was too weak to appear before the Surrogate. Apparently the heirs, the surviving children of Andrew and Eve: Andrew and Daniel Diver and Catherine Woolf, were finding that there wasn’t nearly as much cash to inherit as they thought. They charged that the estate administrators had received goods, chattels, and credits of their father in large amounts not accounted for. Martin explained that “A considerable part of the money that the heirs claim has been paid in the management of the estate and that he alone is competent to explain matters to the heirs,” but couldn’t, due to his illness. In other words, the money had been spent to keep the estate going, collect its debts, etc. over the years between Andrew’s death in 1809 and 1813. Two of the more interesting expenses of the administrators were gallons of rum, purchased for when the real estate was being divided, and quite a few trips to Canada, probably to collect money owed to Diver there.
Both the 14-page inventory and the many pages listing the disposition of the items on the inventory, as well as a list of the creditors of and the debts due by the estate are included in the probate file, now located in the archives of the Rensselaer County Historical society in Troy. The inventory seems to have been done just as the appraisers walked around the property, the fields, outbuildings, and the house itself, not really organized. The Divers definitely had had a working farm, and Andrew died in the midst of summer, with crops in the field.
The first page begins with many farm tools, from an ox chain to a new hand saw and four hay forks, but with “1 sword” in the middle of the list. The second page includes a woolen wheel, listed just before a cabbage knife, then “1 side of upper leather,” In the midst page 8, I found the most valuable item owned by the Divers, “1 Negro Wooman,” listed just after 9 Chairs worth $2.36, and an old ax, worth $.25. She was valued at $200. A second slave, also listed as a “Negro Woman,” was listed on page 5, and worth just $70. This jibes with the 1800 census, which indicates that Andrew Diver had two slaves.
Another page of the probate file records the purchase of “a pair of shoes for the black girl” for $1.75 on August 9, 1809, just after Andrew’s death. It could be that the woman valued less was either young and untrained or too old to do much work. Cornelius Lansing bought the higher valued woman from the estate for $115 in February 1810.
The inventory really illuminates the farming activity of the Divers. After the slaves, the next most valuable items were the animals and the crops, many still in the fields. Andrew had 6 swine, 1 beef cow, 1 3-year-old bull, 1 2-year-old bull, 1 2-year-old heifer, 1 1-year-old heifer, 3 milch (milk) cows, 44 sheep, 1 gelded horse, 1 young bay mare, 1 old bay mare, and 4 “calfs.” There was no poultry listed, but there were 2 bags of feathers, so I wonder if the chickens, ducks, and geese were not worth counting, or had been removed from the farm. I also wonder if the bulls were used as oxen, as there was lots of equipment for driving oxen and an ox cart listed. There were also several “slays.”
The crops included 5 ½ bushels of sowing oats, 6 bushels of sowing buckwheat, half of that in the field, 48 bushels of sowing wheat within the field, and 2 bushels of sowing rye. I assume that these grains listed as within the field needed to be harvested. There were also $40 worth of corn and $7.50 of potatoes in the field, plus 6 stacks of hay in the north field and 2 in the west field.
The equipment to manage the animals, and to plant, harvest, and process these products was on the inventory as well. For example, there was a fanning mill to separate wheat from chaff; 14 pounds of wool yarn, wool cards, and a wool wheel, and woad for dying fabric; a meat tub; various pieces of leather; and a grind stone. There were pointers to other farm products as well: a barrel of cabbage and a cabbage knife; a sack of dried apples and iron bound hogsheads in the cider house; a flax brake, used to process flax and a bag of tow yarn(tow is the waste of linen, used to make rope; an iron bound churn; soap kettles; “tryed” tallow, ready to be made into candles and finished candles; various pieces of wood of different types, for example “redwood;” and 4 pounds of beeswax plus a straw bee hive. The Divers could have been very self-sufficient, producing their own meat, grain, fibers for knitting and weaving, honey, and other food. There were 17 baskets on the inventory- they could have been homemade as well.
Some of the items on the inventory were definitely purchased, however. There were many farm tools and household implements made of iron, from fire tongs to plows, which would have been made by blacksmiths. There were a number of hogsheads, probably made by a cooper. There was a tobacco box, whose contents would have been purchased. There were brass kettles and a copper tea kettle, plus 2 tin pails, 4 sugar boxes and 28 pounds of sugar, plus 1 bottle of spirits of turpentine, 14 pounds of bohea tea and several tea boxes, a pepper box, and 7 bushels of salt, valued at $1 per bushel. Salt would have been used to preserve food as well as for seasoning,
For what had been a large family, the Divers had little table ware, just 6 forks,6 knives, and 6 spoons of pewter, 14 “hard metal spoons,” 2 glass tumblers, one pint and one quart pewter mug, and a number of tea pots. There were several platters of earthenware, and one of pewter, plus a large earthenware bowl, and at least 6 other “boles.” I find 10 pewter plates on the inventory. None of the kitchenware was of silver. The only somewhat luxurious items I found were 5 “jappan” canisters, a looking glass, and a set of tea cups and saucers. Without any further description, it’s hard to know how fancy the tea cups and mirror were. Japanning is the treatment of either pottery or tinware with layers of heavy black laquer, heat-dried in between, so while the canisters would have been pretty, they were not made of valuable material.
Turning to the household furnishings, the Divers had a number of beds plus their mattresses and hangings, which were among the most valuable possessions of people at the time. There were lots of wool blankets and wool and linen sheets plus many pillows and pillow cases to go with the beds. There were chests of wood, and an “iron bound chest,” and my favorite item on the list, “1 rocking cradle with what is in it.” I trust that wasn’t a baby! Several tables were also on the list, unfortunately not further described. There were nine chairs and just one arm chair. There were no listings for benches or case pieces of furniture, like an armoire or a desk.
There were also a number of pieces of fabric on the inventory: 5 yards of woolen check, 1 ½ yards of flannel, 2 ½ yards of black silk, 2 ½ yards of striped cotton, 23 yards of calico. Only the wool could have been home made. Remembering Eve Diver’s wardrobe inventory, she had a number of garments of calico, plus a cloak and handkerchief of black silk. It certainly seems that lots of clothing and textile production went on in the house. The list also included a set of shoemaker’s tools.
Also on the list was Andrew Diver’s wardrobe. He had 5 pairs of trousers, 2 woolen and 3 “old;” 5 shirts, 2 linen, 1 muslin, and 2 woolen; 3 vests, one woolen and 2 “old;” 3 short coats (like suit jackets), 2 great coats(like an overcoat);and 1 “french” coat. I don’t know what that meant. Andrew had evidently made the transition from the breeches, buckled just below the knee, which men wore in the 18th century, to long trousers. The shirts probably would have been almost knee length and done double duty as night shirts. He also had 2 pairs of shoes and just one hat, plus 7 pairs of stockings and one pair leggings, 2 pairs of mittens, and one belt. He had 7 silk handkerchiefs, several black. There were also 2 “china shalls”, which must have been Eve’s. Andrew had 3 pairs of “specks”, presumably eyeglasses- which had a total value of only $.80. Besides the silk handkerchiefs, the only sign of conspicuous consumption was one pair of silver shoe buckles. And he would have needed some kind of buckles for his shoes in any case. This seems like a fairly modest wardrobe for a wealthy man.
This account only begins to look this extensive inventory. There were a few items which I found surprising, including one knapsack and one umbrella. Knapsack is a word of 16th century German origin, and its use may reflect Eve’s German ancestry. I didn’t realize how old the term was. Umbrellas at the time were generally used to shade a lady’s fair skin, rather than to keep off rain, so that was probably Eve’s possession, and another small luxury.
Andrew had one gun, not described more fully, as well as powder and shot for it. It would be surprising if he didn’t have a gun on what had been the frontier until recently. I am surprised that the Divers had no books, not even a Bible. Eve could not write, and perhaps couldn’t read either, but I would have expected at least a family Bible. Evidently there was no clock in the house, nor any pictures on the walls. There was a huge quantity of fabric and yarn, but no mention of needles for sewing or knitting. Of course the unknowns of this are the competence of the appraisers and the possibility that heirs could have removed items before the inventory was conducted.
A Woman’s Belongings
By Chris Kelly
Eve’s file inventories just her clothing. I wish the inventory had been conducted by a woman, who might have given more detail, but two men, John and Henry Graberger, Jr., made the list.
This is an interesting view into a closet of a well-off farm wife of c. 1800. I have to think she had many more clothes than the average woman. Also, we think of rural women of the late 18th century making most of their clothes, but almost all of Eve’s clothing was made of silk or calico, both imported materials at the time. A few items were of linen, which could have been made in the U.S. but not in the Schaghticoke area at the time, and a few of wool, which could have been home-produced. In addition, Eve died as an elderly woman, so would have had many years to amass her wardrobe, and probably would have been relatively conservative in her dress. The list reflects 18th rather than 19th century fashion, very much what we would call “colonial costume.”
Eve had two garments of silk, the most expensive material- a short gown and a skirt. A short gown would have been the top half of a dress connected to a short skirt, which would have to be worn over a long skirt. She had four other short gowns, material not specified, plus twelve calico short gowns. Eve also had two long gowns of calico. Calico was a printed cotton fabric, so we can imagine Eve dressed in a variety of patterns. She also had one loose gown made of wool, and one of “stuff”, which was also wool. Loose gowns, as the name implies, were not fitted to the body- good for pregnant and/or chunky ladies, or for more casual dress. And she had several skirts, one black, which would certainly have gone well under all those calico short gowns, and one calico.
Women at the time wore a shift next to the skin- like a slip- and varying numbers of petticoats under the skirts of their gowns. Eve had three shifts of unspecified material and one shift of linen. She had eighteen petticoats of unspecified material, plus one of striped linen, one calico, one of wool, and one of “stuff.” One common undergarment not mentioned in the inventory is a corset, commonly worn over the shift but under the gown. I don’t know why Eve didn’t have one. Though they were becoming old-fashioned by 1810, the types of garments she wore would have called for one.
Eve would have used a separate pocket, threaded on a cord and tied around her waist, to hold her daily necessities, much like a woman’s purse today. The pocket could either be very decorative and worn on top of her petticoats and gown, or plainer, and worn under those garments, accessible through slits. Eve had ten calico pockets, providing a wealth of daily choice as she dressed.
Women wore shawls instead of sweaters to add a layer of warmth, and mantels or cloaks instead of coats in cold weather. Eve had a variety of shawls, from one described as “needlework,” presumably embroidered; to one of “chintz”, another printed cotton; one of purple, and one just described as “new.” She did have a black coat, plus a scarlet cloak, and one of black silk, plus a mantel of calico.
Eve also had a number of accessories. She had 21 handkerchiefs, mostly of muslin, but one of silk, and one black. Certainly some of those would have been large enough to be worn around the neck and tucked into the bodice of a dress, both for modesty and warmth. She also had 13 pairs of stockings, 2 knitted. She had just one pair of gloves, made of silk, plus two red ribbons. Women wore aprons both as decorations and as utilitarian garments. Eve had just two aprons, both checked. Perhaps one of the family slaves did most of the cooking.
Given the wealth of the rest of her wardrobe, I find it surprising that the inventory lists just one pair of “old” shoes and one “old” bonnet. Women wore some sort of head covering all the time- usually a mob cap of some sort indoors with a bonnet put over it for going out, and the inventory also includes ten caps.
And Eve had just three pieces of jewelry: a chain of beads, a chain of black beads, and a chain of gold beads. The gold beads had the second highest value of any item on the inventory: $7.00. The most valuable garment was the black silk cloak, worth $15. The scarlet cloak was worth $6.00.
I would love to read some inventories of the clothing of other women who died around the same time as Eve- of different economic levels. My previous reading lead me to think that most women had few changes of clothing, where Eve had quite a few. Also, most of her clothes would have been made of purchased fabric, rather than the homespun we think of for colonial era garments. But it is odd that she had just the one pair of shoes and one bonnet- perhaps she had given away some of her clothing? And no earrings? Perhaps she had given away jewelry as well? This is just one more time when we wish we could talk to those long-deceased people face-to-face.
My conclusion is that these were hard working people who lived a very basic life. Andrew, even at age 74, had planted extensive crops of a number of kinds, and kept enough animals to supply meat and wool. Eve, at 64, was busy making cloth and clothes, preparing meals, and preserving the farm produce. They lived a life without frills. I find it thought-provoking to compare their belongings with my own and those of people around me.
March 11, 2013Posted by on
In the 19th century four residents of Schaghticoke served in the U.S. House of Representatives: Josiah Masters, from 1805-1809, Herman Knickerbacker, from 1809-1811, Job Pierson, from 1831-1835, and Thomas Ripley, from 1846-1847. The biographies I wrote of Masters and Knickerbacker have already appeared in these pages and are now on the website of the town, www.townofschaghticoke.org, as well as at my blog, www.schaghticokehistory.wordpress.com. I will write about Ripley in the future. Now, Job Pierson is on center stage.
Pierson was born in either Bridgehampton or East Hampton, in SuffolkCounty on Long Island, in 1791. One of his ancestors, Henry, was one of the original settlers of Southhampton. He was undoubtedly named for his great-grandfather named Job, who was born in 1697 and had just died in 1788. The family was well-off, and Job received a fine education. According to an article by a descendant in “NY Genealogy”, Pierson returned frequently to the home farm on Long Island. According to his obituary, he was “fitted for college” …by Dr. Lyman Beecher, father of Henry Ward Beecher, who was a preacher in Bridgehampton. He entered WilliamsCollege in Massachusetts as a sophomore, graduating in 1811. He studied law briefly with attorney William Williams in Salem, Washington County, and then with Herman Knickerbacker in Albany and Schaghticoke. He became Knickerbacker’s partner and began to practice law in 1815.
Also in 1815 he married Clarissa Taintor Bulkeley of Williamstown. She was a descendant of the founders of Concord, Massachusetts. Evidently they settled near Pierson’s patron Knickerbocker, as the little family is in the 1820 census of Schaghticoke. A newspaper article from 1833 describes Herman Knickerbocker and his home and factory on the Tomhannock Creek in some detail, but also states, “On the opposite side of the creek, surrounded by lofty pines, locust, and other ornamental trees, stands the residence of the Hon. Job Pierson, member of congress for the county of Rensselaer.”
Job followed his mentor in community and political involvement. When the Presbyterian Church sold pews to raise money to build its meeting house in 1820, Herman bought two pews and Job one, for $31. Neither man had any children baptized there- so perhaps their support was more symbolic than anything else. Pierson also joined Bethel Mather and William B. Slocum to donate land for the church when the building was moved into the village of Schaghticoke in 1827.
Interestingly, Pierson and his senior partner Knickerbacker were political opponents for the first fifteen years of their long friendship. Knickerbacker was a Federalist, and Pierson a Democratic Republican. The Federalist Party of Knickerbacker lost influence with the election of James Madison after the War of 1812, and Knickerbocker eventually joined Pierson as a Democratic Republicans, and supporter of Andrew Jackson. Meanwhile, Pierson, the longtime Jeffersonian Democrat, was appointed District Attorney of Rensselaer County in 1824 and served until his election to Congress as a Jacksonian in 1831. His obituary states, “the county never had an abler or more efficient public prosecutor. He always had his cases prepared, he never allowed himself to be ‘taken by surprise’, and the prisoner against whom he appeared had to be ‘doubly bound’ in honesty to escape conviction.”
In 1830 Pierson was elected to the US Congress by a large majority, and re-elected by an even larger majority in 1832. While in Congress, his obituary notes, Pierson “seldom spoke, but when he did speak it was with effect….General Jackson had not a more thorough supporter of his administration.”
In September of 1831, an article in the “Troy Sentinel” was “a call to prevent repeal of tariffs to protect farmers, mechanics, and manufacturers of RensselaerCounty”. It announced a meeting to be held at the court house in Troy to appoint delegates to a convention in New York City, and was signed by many men in the county, including Herman Knickerbacker, Bethel Mather, Abraham Knickerbacker, and Job Pierson, all of Schaghticoke.
While he was in Washington, D.C. from 1831-1835, Job Pierson wrote eloquent letters home to his wife in Schaghticoke. Fortunately for scholars, some 350 of these letters were collected in two volumes and are now in the Library of Congress. Others of his papers are in the Bentley Historical Library of the University of Michigan. According to the comments of the librarians at the Library of Congress, Pierson, “with no political experience on the national level, and little on the local, knew he had much to learn. He was not lacking in confidence, however…One of his early observations was that a ‘great proportion’ of his fellow congressmen did nothing, and would ‘do nothing during the whole session’.”
Pierson came into contact with President Andrew Jackson many times while he served in Congress, “mostly while escorting visiting constituents who wished to meet the President.” He was happy to find that Jackson was not the backwoods hick he had been led to expect, but well-spoken and distinguished, with “the finest eye” he had ever seen. Pierson also went to dinner at the White House on several occasions, and wrote letters to his wife describing the occasions. One dinner was a “he-party” for thirty members of congress. The “old fellow”, Jackson, “was in good humor,” and the wine “flowed like torrents.” Even tee-totallers felt compelled to imbibe, and everyone became “as giddy as schoolboys.”
Pierson wrote to his wife about all of the political issues of the day, but also frequently asked about his children. He worried about them as they were away at school- the commentary from the Library doesn’t specify which ones- , and also about the constant fear of severe illness, financial problems, and the difficulties created for his wife by his absence. He wrote, “women should always be sunshine & flowers. Tears may flow at times-but only for the purpose of bedewing their garlands or moistening them like genial showers. They should not know the price of wheat or the difference in the quality of wood-all such matters should be provided and regulated by the other sex & I regret exceedingly that I am not at home to relieve you of all these burthens and quiet your wounded feelings.”
The Piersons had five children, all born at Schaghticoke: Sarah Jerusha (1816-1866), who married Philip Titus Heartt in 1839; Samuel Dayton (1819-1850), Job (1824-1896), who married Rachel Smith, Mary Bulkeley (1825-1851), who married Oscar Winship; and John Bulkeley (1828-1885), who married first Mary Lockwood, then Harriet VanSchoonhoven after Mary died.
Just to give a bit more information on the children, in the 1860 census, Sarah and her husband lived in Richmond, NY. He was an importer, and the couple obviously lived abroad for some years. They had eight children, one of whom had been born in Scotland, and one in Germany. The family included a governess, a cook and a servant. Samuel graduated from Williams in 1840, became a lawyer, and died in 1850. Job graduated from Williams in 1842, and became a prominent Presbyterian clergyman in Michigan. In retirement, he contributed thousands of entries to the New Oxford English Dictionary. John lived in Troy, and in the 1880 census, his occupation was listed as bank president. Mary’s husband Oscar Winship was a West Point graduate, who served in the Mexican War, then afterwards in the Southwest, controlling Native Americans. He died young.
Returning to Job and his letters home from Washington, D.C., a frequent topic was the sometimes chaotic congressional boarding houses where he lived. He reported that an unnamed senator had seduced a “handsome chamber-maid” and the other boarders, angry that he had monopolized her company, imported “some 4 or 5 girls from a house of ill-fame…who came there every night.” Pierson visited all around the city, and occasionally attended the theatre, walking out on a performance of “Macbeth” that he was not enjoying.
Pierson served two terms in Congress, but was not reelected for a third term in 1834. Andrew Jackson’s removal of government deposits from the Bank of the United States had created bad economic conditions in Schaghticoke, but Pierson remained firm in his support of his President. The “Albany Evening Journal” of November 3, 1834 reported that RensselaerCounty elected its entire Whig ticket. Judge Hunt had only a 33 vote majority over Job Pierson. Pierson served the last few months of his term, until March 4, 1835, as a lame duck. He wrote to his wife, “I shall shake the dust from my feet against the prison door of this City (Washington, D.C.) & and quite it I hope forever.” Pierson was concurrently running for Supervisor of the town of Schaghticoke, and the “Journal” of April 8, 1835, reported that Amos Briggs, industrialist, was elected supervisor over Job Pierson, “the Regency candidate.” The latter implies, I guess, that Pierson was the protégé of the old guard, like Herman Knickerbacker, though that wasn’t true. Briggs was a recent immigrant from Rhode Island.
However, Job was not unemployed when his term in Congress ended on March 4, 1835. According to the “Schenectady Cabinet” of March 25, 1835, Governor Marcy nominated him for Surrogate Judge in RensselaerCounty. “Mr. P. seems to be the special favorite of his party in Rensselaer. He has held the office of District Attorney for nine years, was twice elected to Congress, and has now been nominated by the Governor and will doubtless be confirmed by the Senate (as Surrogate.)” He served until 1840, after which time he went into practice as an attorney in Troy. I have found his name connected with his mentor, Herman Knickerbacker, in several land deals, and he helped to settle his estate when Herman died intestate in 1855. I believe that the Piersons moved to Troy when Job returned from his time in Washington, DC. They lived on WashingtonPark, the private park in the city of Troy.
Though he didn’t return to elective office, Job continued to be involved in politics and government. He was appointed in 1846 by the New York State Legislature to be one of the commissioners locating the route of the New York and Erie Railroad. He was a delegate to various State political conventions, and to the Democratic National Conventions of 1848, 1852, and 1856. The “Buffalo Daily Courier” of September 3, 1850 reported that “That sturdy old democrat and large hearted gentleman, Job Pierson, will represent the city of Troy at the State Convention.” His obituary adds, “He was an unswerving Democrat. He possessed a national reputation and influence. He was a prominent member of the conventions that nominated Cass, Pierce, and Buchanan for the presidency.”
Job was a respected and influential man in the county. Isaac T. Grant, who had a prosperous factory making agricultural machinery on the DeepKill in the 1840’s, served at a couple of State Political conventions with Pierson. He named his son, born 1836, after Job. Job Pierson Grant also became a manufacturer. Grant’s brother John and his partner Daniel Viall also had sons named Job. Grant placed an ad advertising his new “Patent Fan Mill”, made at Junction (Melrose) in the 1845 “The Cultivator”, a New York State Agricultural Magazine. The ad included endorsements by area farmers, then by Job Pierson, who honestly stated, “I know little of the utility of the fan-mill above described….but I am personally acquainted with almost every one of the above subscribers, and have no hesitation in saying that the most implicit confidence may be reposed in all they certify.” A further endorsement is by W.L. Marcy, NYS Governor, who certifies that he knows Pierson is a “highly respectable man (formerly member of Congress)”.
Pierson died in Troy on April 9, 1860 and is buried in OakwoodCemetery. Unlike his mentor Knickerbacker, Pierson left a will, which left his property to his widow and four surviving children, Job, John B., Sarah J. Heartt of Staten Island, and Mary B. Winship, of Troy. Mrs. Pierson died in 1865. The beautiful plot at Oakwood includes all of his children and their spouses.
I have quoted several times from his extensive obituary in the Troy “Times”. It further states, “As a Lawyer he had few superiors, as a man his integrity was manifest in all his acts, as a citizen he was universally esteemed……He despised trickery, and he loathed hypocrisy. He was frank and truthful…He made the cause of his client his own. He addressed the common sense of juries; simplifying the most abstruse points…He enjoyed a large and lucrative practice. He loved home and its endearing associations. He enjoyed the society of his friends. He was devotedly loved in return. We shall all miss the true old man, the eminent lawyer, the excellent citizen.”
“Spirit of the Times”, Batavia, NY Oct 26, 1852
“Corrector”, Sag Harbor, NY Nov 4, 1840
“Observer”, Madison, NY Dec 11, 1852
“Evening Journal”, Albany, NY 1850, Dec 5, 1834, Nov 3, 1834, Apr 8, 1835, Mar 22, 1834, Nov 12, 1831
“Evening Star and Times”, Schenectady, NY April 15, 1869
“Daily Observer”, Utica, NY May 9, 1848
“Free Press”, Auburn, Sept 29, 1830
“Democrat”, Penn Yann, Nov 2, 1852
“Republican Watchman”, Monticello Mar 2, 1847, 1844
“Daily Courier”, Buffalo, Sept 3, 1850
“Cabinet”, Schenectady, Mar 25, 1835, Sept 1859
“Morning Herald”, Utica, Apr 9, 1860
“Evening Post”, NY Dec 4, 1832, Aug 17, 1853
“Times” Troy, Apr 10, 1860
Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Pierson Collection: MSS61531
Pierson Family Papers, Bentley History Library, U of Michigan
Pierson, Lizzie Benedict, Pierson Genealogy, digitized by Google, Albany, 1878
Census: US 1820
Biographical Directory of the American Congress, US Govnt 1971
“The Cultivator”, 1845 p 295
February 1, 2013Posted by on
In earlier columns, I have written about about the histories of the Dutch Reformed, Lutheran, and Presbyterian Churches in the town of Schaghticoke. The Dutch Reformed Church was the first in town, founded around 1715. The Presbyterian was the first church in the new village of Schaghticoke, founded in 1803. It was followed by the Methodist Church in 1820. According to a history of the church written by Mrs. C. H. Edwards in 1952, the first Methodist meeting was held in the Travis Tavern in the year 1820. Meetings were held in private homes for a few years. The first church was in a small building, behind the current car wash in the village of Schaghticoke. It had been a blacksmith shop. After its official incorporation in 1831, the congregation outgrew the site, and built a new church in 1834 at the corner of 5th and East Streets. According to Sylvester’s History of Rensselaer County, it was built by a Mr. Mann, whose father built the first Presbyterian Church in 1803. Among the 40 or so subscribers to the building fund were “many benevolent citizens not Methodists, but willing to help in any religious work or public improvement.” This church was only used for about twenty years. In 1852 a lot was purchased on Main Street, where the car wash is now, from Amos Briggs and Betsey Hart for $250. A new church was erected at a cost of $3,300. At this time, the congregation split from the one at Schaghticoke Hill, just down Route 40, where there was also a church building.
The records of the church now extant date from 1864. In that year, the church applied to be separate from the other “charges” (churches) in its circuit, at Schaghticoke Hill and “Junction” (Melrose). This implies that one minister would have ridden circuit, serving the several churches, but that the Schaghticoke church felt it could support a full-time minister on its own. This first minister was W.H. Hughes, whose records are full of praise for God and the generous members of his congregation. There were 68 full members and 16 probationers. Member Bloomfield Usher and his wife Asenath Ann donated a lot for a parsonage the next year, and a parsonage was erected at a cost of about $2500. It was later used as the Presbyterian Manse after the union with that church. Mr. Usher and two other members each gave $300 toward the parsonage, with donations from about 30 other people, and the proceeds from attendance at three lectures adding up to $1808. $200 more was earned from selling the church at Crandall’s Corners. That is the intersection to the north on Route 40 where one turns to go to Borden’s Apple Orchard. So within just a few years, the church spent over $5000 on new buildings, and became an independent entity. Despite this promising start, from 1869-1872 “the church flourished but poorly, and at least once the prospect of its existence seemed doubtful.” It went back to sharing a pastor, this time with the Valley Falls church, which was much larger. The loyalty of several members and the appointment of a couple of more charismatic pastors improved the situation, and the church went back to having its own pastor. In general, the pastors stayed about two years each after that, and the records fluctuate between joy at the revival of interest in the church and concern that financial obligations are not being met. Periodically, pastors were shared with either Valley Falls or Schaghticoke Hill. In 1877 the congregation “engaged in a Murphy Temperance Reform, which was a complete success.” In 1888, the first females appeared in the list of stewards of the church, “sisters Baker and Ackart.” The church was completely remodeled in 1892.
As with the Presbyterian Church, there were societies or committees within the church for specific purposes: the Willing Workers, the Ladies Aid, and the Epworth and Literary Leagues, the Temperance, Tract, Missions, and Freedmen committees. Of course there was also a Sunday School and a choir. In 1893, the Epworth League had 48 members and a Junior League conducted by Miss Olmstead, Miss Tarbell, and Mrs Baldwin. “They have instructed in catechism and in scripture, and Mrs. Baldwin has introduced a drill with dumb bells, a pleasing and healthful exercise which pleases the children very much.”
Also like the Presbyterian Church, the Methodist church was damaged by the periodic explosions at the Powder Mill in Valley Falls. In 1904 the windows in the auditorium were repaired “by a Boston expert at the expense of the Powder Company,” and a new “Belgium lamp” was purchased to be used “in place of the lamp thrown down and damaged by the last powder mill explosion.” In 1913 “matters” were settled with the Powder Company for $200, but it was suggested retaining a lawyer if there were future damages to obtain a better settlement. In 1923, Pastor Jenkins reported damages to the parsonage by the Powder Mill explosion.
The minutes of the Quarterly Conferences over the years reveal constant need for fund raising, repair to the church or parsonage, efforts of the Sunday School or one of the organizations, generous donations of time and/or money by members, arrival and departure of ministers, organists, and sextons. The 1906 minutes give this list of the sexton’s duties: sweep, dust, clean the kitchen, mow the lawn, sweep the walks and steps, shovel the same, keep lamps filled and lit and put out, their wicks trimmed as needed, build fires as needed, tend fires, ring the bell, adjust ventilation at meetings, maintain decorum around the church, undo any extra decorations for services. In case of an event at the church where admission was charged, the sexton would get an extra dollar. For this, the sexton, this time Delbert Seymour, would receive $100 per year. In the 1905 census, Delbert Seymour, a 25-year-old who lived with his grandmother Cinthia Knickerbocker, was listed as owning a blacksmith shop. So being sexton was by no means his full-time job.
Apparently in 1931, the church property at Schaghticoke Hill was sold. In 1932, the pastorate began to be shared with Melrose and in 1950 with Valley Falls again. After much discussion, the church joined with the Presbyterian Church across the street in 1960, leaving its building. The new church’s name was the Presbyterian United Church. The former Methodist Parsonage was used for the minister. That home, almost opposite the Schag-a-Val diner on Main Street, was sold a few years ago. The Methodist Church building was sold to the “Schaghticoke Sun” newspaper, with the proceeds to be used for improvements to the Presbyterian Church building. A newspaper article in the “Sun” in 1961 reported that “the (church) building is under reconstruction to make room downstairs for the workshop of the “Schaghticoke Sun. Upstairs the Hoosic Valley Fife and Drum Corps are remodeling the rooms to be used as their headquarters. They will use these rooms as a meeting hall and also for their weekly drills.” The church burned in 1980, and is now the site of a gas station and car wash. Unfortunately, most of the only surviving back issues of the “Sun”, dating to about 1885, were lost in the fire.
As with the Presbyterian Church, we can enjoy learning about the ins and outs of an active community congregation thanks to preservation of at least some of its records. If you would like to read more, my transcription of the records is online at http://www.townofschaghticoke.org, Click on History at the left side of the page.
January 8, 2013Posted by on
New Year’s Resolutions
By Chris Kelly
Okay, I admit it; I have an addiction…. to Ancestry.com. Last year I finally broke down and purchased a membership. I have used it for researching my own family tree, but I primarily use it to research people who lived in the town of Schaghticoke.
So, I guess New Year’s is a time to resolve to try to break addictions, but instead I will resolve to continue to pry into the lives of people who lived in our town in the past. The history of our country was made by primarily by the small actions of individuals, and the more I can find out about them, the deeper our knowledge about the town and its development.
For the past months, I have been trying to find out all I can about the men from Schaghticoke who fought in the U.S. Civil War. Ancestry.com digitized the original record cards kept by New York State on all of the men who served in its regiments, and the pension cards created by the U.S. government for all those who applied- soldiers and their widows. Using those documents plus some others, I have been able to find out quite a lot about some of the men. And sometimes what I find is not about the Civil War at all, but so revelatory about either the people or their society.
I’ll just give a couple of examples. First is one that really doesn’t relate to Schaghticoke, but is so much fun… I was trying to find out about a man named Patrick Joice, who showed up in the 1865 census in Schaghticoke. I looked at a Joice family in the city of Troy in 1860, trying to find where Patrick had come from. As I scanned the handwritten census page, I noticed that the occupation of a number of women in the “family” above the Joices on the list was….prostitute! Amazingly, the “head of household”, William Hunter, a 54 year old Irishman, had “keeps house of prostitution” as his occupation. Eight women, ranging in age from 17 to 16, had prostitute as their occupation. The house, which was listed in the 1860 Troy directory as a saloon, was at the corner of Liberty and Hill Street in Troy, a rough part of town. Doing some research, I found that prostitution didn’t become illegal until well in to the 20th century.
Just one more example… I researched a man named Edward Pinkham, who died in Schaghticoke in 1905. He was in a New Hampshire Regiment during the Civil War, after which his family moved to Schaghticoke, where his father James was superintendent of the woolen factory. The first surprise in researching him was to find a full-length photo of him as a young lieutenant in the war online. The second surprise was that though I knew that the family was in Schaghticoke from about 1870 through the mid-20th century, I found that Edward and his younger brother Herbert went to Abilene, Kansas, about 1878, to open a grocery store. Abilene would have been on the frontier at that time. Wild Bill Hickock was Marshall of the rowdy town in 1871. I’m not sure what happened, but though they were in Abilene in 1880, the Pinkham brothers were back in Schaghticoke by the time of Herbert’s untimely death at age 29 in 1881. That foray to the Wild West certainly gives a new dimension to our thoughts about the Pinkham family.
So, look for more detailed information about the ordinary people of our town, Schaghticoke, in my columns over the course of the New Year. And Happy New Year to you all!
December 7, 2012Posted by on
Up until the Revolutionary War, Schaghticoke was a small frontier settlement, organized around a fort and a Dutch Reformed church in the area belonging to the city of Albany and rented to Dutch farmers, near the Knickerbocker Mansion. Post-war, New Englanders interested in establishing industries to use the water power of the Hoosic River flooded into town, building their homes near the falls where the new bridge crossed the river in 1790. They were Protestants, like their Dutch neighbors, but needed a church near their homes and in their language. In 1803, forty-four men, most from Schaghticoke, with two from Easton and three from Pittstown, established a society with the goal of forming a Presbyterian congregation. Each man pledged from $10 to $25 toward the erection of a building,
It’s interesting to look at the list of original subscribers to the church. James, Josiah and Nicholas Masters each had a full $25 share. As I wrote in earlier columns, James was the patriarch of a wealthy family, which had moved to the area from Connecticut in 1793. Josiah was a Rensselaer County Justice of the Peace at the time he joined the Presbyterians, and was soon to be elected a U.S. congressman. Also on the list was Dr. Ezekiel Baker, a prominent local doctor, who was to serve the church as secretary of the trustees until his death in 1866. Another was Charles Joy who probably had the earliest mill on the Hoosic River at Schaghticoke. Several of the original subscribers to the Church did have Dutch surnames: John Fort, a P. Knickerbocker, and three Vieles, but the rest were probably newcomers to town.
The first meeting was held at the home of “Colonel”Bethel Mather, where the M & T Bank is now. I have also discussed this New England immigrant to Schaghticoke in previous columns- he was called “Colonel” by virtue of his militia service. The intersection of Route 40 and 67 at the north end of Schaghticoke was called “Colonel Mather’s Four Corners.”
The first Presbyterian church building was erected near the junction of Route 67 and Geary Road, on land belonging to Bethel Mather. The cemetery in the woods there was associated with the church. To us that would seem a remote location from the village, but according to a history of the church published in 1909, “as no village existed at that time, the church was placed where it was the most convenient to the attendants.” About $1200 was pledged to build the church, but it was never quite finished. There was no full time minister, and members took turns preaching when a minister was not available. By 1814, the minutes already indicate a decision relocate the church to the growing village of Schaghticoke Point- now just called Schaghticoke. At the end of the year, a subscription was circulated to decide whether to move the meeting house to Schaghticoke and finish it there or build a new one. It was decided to sell pews in the building and use the income to move it to the village and finish it. Trustee A.L. Viele resigned in disgust at the decision. It took until 1820 to collect the money and move the building.
The trustees’ minutes of February 14, 1820 announce in big black letters, “Reincorportation”, “a meeting of the proprietors of the meeting house now standing on the ground formerly belonging to Colonel Bethel Mather.” Bethel Mather continued his strong support of the church, having provided both the original and new land for the church. He and his wife Huldah had had all of their children baptized in the church right away. In March 1820 the fledgling congregation hired Rev. Mr. Ogilvie to preach for three months, at $5 per Sabbath. In October, they appointed men to inspect the newly relocated and moved meeting house, with one representative from the congregation, one from Derrick C. VanVeghten, who had moved and finished the building, and a neutral party. Despite this careful planning, VanVeghten still threatened to sue for what he felt was owed him. A compromise settlement was reached.
In October, the pews were sold anew. Men bid from $14 to $50 for the pew or pews they wanted, with 45 pews sold. A new name to the list was Herman Knickerbacker, who was then a county judge, but had been a US Congressman a few years earlier; and Job Pierson, who was then a young lawyer, but was elected a US Congressman from 1833-35. Of course Josiah Masters, another Congressman, was still a member. Another member, Amos Briggs, became the most prominent local industrialist, owning literally half of the village by the time of his death in 1874. He married one of Bethel Mather’s daughters. I have to think that everyone- Presbyterian or not- would have had to be impressed with the prominence of the members of the Presbyterian congregation.
Though it had a wealthy and influential congregation, the Presbyterian Church struggled with issues of religious theory. Rev. Thomas Fletcher became the first full-time minister in 1824. He was a proponent of Rev. Charles Finney, a great revivalist preacher of the era, and his services were very lively. Some more conservative members of the church were unhappy and hired an Episcopalian minister from Stillwater to take his place, without telling him. For a while, the ministers preached on alternate Sundays. The supporters of Mr. Fletcher went so far as to erect a separate place of worship, which later became a residence. Rev. Fletcher departed in 1829, and the church reincorporated in 1831. There was no permanent minister until Rev. Dr. John Noble in 1837. He served until 1869, finally giving the congregation some continuity.
The church must have stabilized and grown during this long ministry. The first choirmaster was hired the same year Dr. Noble arrived. In 1846, the trustees voted to tear down their current church and build a new one on the same site, at a cost of $5000. This is the church, somewhat altered, that still stands on the site. At the time, the bridge crossed the Hoosic River near where LT’s Tavern is now, on lower Main Street, so the church had a number of residences, the parsonage, and two mills between it and the bridge. Just across the street in the park, where the World War I soldier statue stands now, was the American Hotel. After 1852, the Methodist Church was across Main Street, where the car wash is now. So the setting of the church was quite a bit different than what we see.
The church also established a Sunday School in 1823, with one of the church founders, Dr. Ezekiel Baker, as the first Superintendent. From about 1855 to 1880, the church had a second Sunday School in the “Bryan neighborhood”, which was along River Road, near the junction with Allen Road. The superintendent was Jacob Ackart. The first choir was organized in 1837. The trustees’ minutes record the hiring of various people to be either organists or choristers and sexton over the years.
Though the 1909 history of the church in my files states that women have always been prominent in the history of the Presbyterian Church, this is not reflected in the official minutes. The first female trustees and officers of the church do not appear until about 1920, when Mrs. Minnie Button became the Treasurer. But the ladies were certainly influential in a non-official capacity. After the formation of the Ladies’ Aid Society in 1893, the minutes frequently refer to having the Ladies’ Aid Society plan and pay for various interior improvements in the church and manse. Unfortunately the book of minutes of the Society only covers the years from 1893 to 1908. The object of the Ladies’ Aid Society was to “promote sociability and increase the revenue of the church for repair.” For example, in October 1904, the trustees’ minutes note that the minister was to go to the Ladies’ Aid Society with the bill for furnace repair, which they had offered to pay.
The minutes of the Board of Trustees of the church have several ongoing themes over the years: difficulty in keeping up with the salary of the minister and other church costs, difficulty in finding and keeping a good sexton, ongoing need for repair of the building, progress of the Sunday School and religious education, the routine of choosing a new minister. During one stretch from 1905 to 1906, the church hired and lost four different sextons. Some of the entries show the unique history of Schaghticoke. There are periodic notes that damage to the church has been caused by an explosion at the Powder Mill. For example, on May 28, 1912, Alexander Diver was appointed to inspect the damage caused by the explosion of the Powder Mill, and was t ask Mr. Duncan, a Troy builder to help him. In July, Mr. Diver and Robert Sample went to see the Dupont Company to demand $300 for damages caused by the explosion. In November, they reported that the check was expected soon. The final explosion at the mill in 1928 caused $6000 in damage, which was discussed for at least a year afterwards. It isn’t clear if the church ever received any compensation for that extensive damage.
One of my favorite sequences in the minutes concerns the steeple. It was repaired periodically over the years, and was found “in good condition” on May 9, 1939. On May 28 it fell down “in a gentle wind”, at the intermission between church and Sunday School, but fortunately no one was hurt.
The Presbyterian Church manse had been almost next door to the church, just down the street a bit toward the river. Sometimes, over the years, the minister did not live in the building, when it would be rented out. In 1940, the trustees learned of the plan to build a new bridge over the Hoosic River, which would “interfere with the manse property.” At first they registered a protest. Then it became clear that they had no choice. The bridge would be built; the manse would have to go. One thought was to move it, though “the fixtures were declared out of fashion by the ladies.” Then the price of the manse was set at $5000, and there was “a sharp discussion on what to do with the sale of the land” where the manse was located. In 1943, the board decided to buy the home of Mrs. Louise Donaha to be a new manse for $4000, and to build a garage next to it. The garage was finally built in 1949.
When World War II began, two trustees, Chester Hack and Herman Spoonagle, tried to resign, as they were soldiers and to be sent abroad. The board refused to accept their resignations! Chet Hack returned from the war safely, and continued to serve his church, but Sgt. Spoonagle was killed in North Africa. A memorial to him was framed and hung in the church in November 1945. His funeral was conducted in June 1949.
The minutes reflect constant work over the years to maintain church property, improve the Sunday School, and collect the necessary funds to pay the pastor and contribute to missions. The pastors reported on their work. In 1948, Pastor Kilgus reported in the past nine months he had given 40 sermons, made 18 hospital and 140 house calls, done 2 radio services, and presided at one wedding, one baptism, and two funerals. All kinds of plans were tried to raise money, beginning with sale of pews, moving on to the envelope system of donations, adding extra collections, holding fund raising activities like the famous clam chowder suppers or concerts, plays, and lectures. Trustees often had to canvass the congregation for donation. Many members gave a lot of time, effort, and money toward the church.
In 1949 there were long discussions about either federation or union with the Methodist Episcopal Church across the street. A joint committee came up with Articles of Federation at the end of 1954. According to the Schaghticoke Centennial Booklet, “Joint services began in November 1954 with both churches paying equal salary under Rev. Melvin Lavender.” Though both churches voted for the union in January 1955, the constituting service when Presbyterians and Methodists became members of the Presbyterian United church was not until June 29, 1960. The Methodist Church was sold to Thomas Arnold, owner of the “Schaghticoke Sun” newspaper for $2000. At some point, the parsonage was sold, and the Methodist Parsonage used for the combined congregation.
Besides the Trustees, the other governing body of the church was the Session, which managed the religious life of the church. Its elders left a separate set of minutes. These minutes record the people joining and leaving the church over the years, as well as baptisms. I was surprised to read that the church monitored the moral behavior of members of its congregation, actually conducting “trials” in several cases. For example, in September 1861, Ezekiel Baker and Jacob Ackert were appointed to see Thomas A. Hayden “in reference to a report of his dancing.” Baker and Ackert were long-time officers of the church. Both had been trustees and on the session. Dr. Baker was a 65 year old, well-respected physician in the village. Jacob Ackart was a 47- year old farmer, who had run the Sunday School in addition to being a member of the Session. I found Thomas Hayden as a 22 year old clerk in the 1865 census, so he was only 17 or so at the time of this infraction. In November, Hayden appeared before the Session and “admitted dancing at a recent picnic and promised to abstain in the future.” He remained a member of the church until 1975, and became a druggist in the village.
At the same time, William Geddis was seen participating frequently in public dances at Collars Hotel. He was asked to appear before the Session, but did not. After being given several chances to appear, Geddis was suspended from the church for “contumacy.” I was surprised to discover that William was a 16 year old at the time, the son of Irish immigrants Samuel and Margaret Geddis or Gaddis.
In 1868, Henry L. Baker and Alice L. Finch “confessed in breaking the seventh commandment (“Thou shalt not commit adultery.”) and were forgiven.” I find this perplexing as they were married that year. Perhaps the marriage solved the problem. In 1878, David Myers, a railroad agent, confessed to having broken the 9th commandment (“thou shalt not bear false witness”) by deception in a certain business transaction in his job at the Troy and Boston Railroad. His sentence was to make a public confession. In general, those who appeared before the Session were forgiven and rehabilitated, but those who failed to appear were excommunicated from the church.
Around 1880, the Session passed a resolution requiring a pledge of abstinence as a condition of membership in the church. But the Presbytery, the higher regional governing board of the church, found that doing so was “unconstitutional.” The solution to this was that the Session wrote a resolution to be read from the pulpit which urged the members “to abstain from all amusements as dancing, card playing, attendance of theatrical performances…which lead the mind of the Christian away from serious thought and more elevated occupations.. .Membership urged to pay attention to their religious condition, attend church more, and study the Bible daily.”
The minutes of the Women’s Missionary Society from its inception in 1881 reveal a sincere and sustained effort by the members, first, to learn about foreign people and cultures and second, to help those in need both in the US and abroad. The constitution required the group to divide its donations equally between home and foreign missions. Barrels of clothing were filled and sent to Indian schools in Alaska and New Mexico, and to the needy in the hills of North Carolina. Donations were made to missions in China, India, Korea, and Mexico. The monthly meetings, which were held at the homes of the members, included lectures by the ladies themselves about the parts of the world to which the donations were made, and periodic visits from the missionaries in person. Generally the programs came from books provided by the Presbyterian Church governing body and from newspapers.
One member, Dr. Alma Beale, had worked in New York City among Italian immigrants. She spoke about her experiences in 1914, “making us think we are too harsh sometimes in our criticism of the foreigners.” Money was raised by making and selling quilts, by holding “silver teas,” and by putting on “missionary plays.” Every summer through the 1920’s the group had a picnic at the home of Mr and Mrs Bert Weatherwax, with free rides provided by Mr and Mrs Alex Diver. Mr. Diver was the undertaker, so he had good transportation.
Another organization of the Presbyterian Church was the Standard Bearers. The minute book of this group from 1918 to 1925 describes monthly meetings of couples and a few single people, rotating among the homes of the members. The yearly dues were one cent for each year of the person’s age, payable on his or her birthday. The meetings always began with devotions, and each person responded to the roll call with a Bible verse. There was an entertainment and refreshments each month. Sample entertainments were a reading of papers on the lives of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, followed by a debate on which was greater; some members dressed to represent some book and the others guessing which ones; a debate on the question: “resolved: women should rise one half hour earlier than men;” and musical performances by members. In 1922 member Willard Ackart complained of the tendency of the meetings to exist only for sociability, when the original purpose was to study the Bible, debate about Bible characters, and learn Bible quotations. The rest of the group did not want to return to that plan. The group also raised money for charity, and had a Sunshine Fund to send cards and flowers to the sick of the congregation.
Thanks to the good stewardship of the Presbyterian Congregation, we know quite a lot about the church and its activities over the years through the records preserved. They reveal a congregation at the heart of its community. I have cited these records throughout these columns. If you are interested in reading more, my transcriptions of the records are on the Town website: http://www.townofschaghticoke.org in the History section. I extracted the membership, baptism, and marriage records from the minutes and alphabetized them, and they are listed separately. You will note that I have not covered the last fifty years of the history of the church, as they were not included in the records I transcribed. I invite the congregation to step forward and write that history.
Bibliography: Lohnes, Dick, Schaghticoke Centennial Booklet, 1967.
Sylvester, Nathaniel, History of Rensselaer County, 1880.
Records of the Presbyterian Church
Pamphlet history of the Presbyterian church, 1909
October 30, 2012Posted by on
The next time you drive east on Alternate Route 7 toward Troy, take a minute to notice the tall granite shaft sticking up on the side of the wooded hill, just to the left or north. It looks like the Washington Monument, only smaller. It is the tombstone of General John Ellis Wool, in Oakwood Cemetery, Troy. If you haven’t been in the cemetery, turn on in, and head over to the edge of the hill to see the tombstone and the view to the west. Or keep your eye out for the notice of tours of the cemetery. The tombstone is definitely worth a look, as is the rest of the cemetery. The Gardner Earl Chapel is a National Historic Landmark.
I am claiming John Ellis Wool as a product of Schaghticoke, which will not seem true if you Google him. What Wikipedia and I agree on is that John Wool was one of the most important men in the U.S. Army in the 19th century.
John Wool’s great-grandfather Jurgen Woll arrived in New York City from Finland around 1700. One of his sons, James Wool was born about 1725 in New York City. James and his second wife and five of his seven children moved to a farm in Schaghticoke in 1762. The farm was located off Fogarty Road on what is now Wetsel Road. James’son John stayed behind in New York City as an apprentice to a heel and last maker, (a last is a form around which shoes are made), but he and his wife Ann joined his father by the time of the Revolutionary War. John and his brother James, Jr. served in the 14th Albany County Militia under Colonel Knickerbocker. Two of James Sr.’s sons ended up as prisoners of war, confined on British prison hulks in New York Harbor. One died during that ordeal.
In December 1783, the war over, John the heel and last maker decided that he and his family would return to New York City. En route, they stopped in Newburgh. Perhaps he tarried there because of the imminent birth of his sixth child, the future general, John Ellis Wool, on January 31, 1784. John Sr. continued on to New York, and set up a heel shop in the city, returning for his family in August. In July, 1790, John Sr. died, just before the birth of his eighth child. His poor widow sent six-year-old John north to live with his grandfather in Schaghticoke. She remarried and died shortly after. In 1796, grandfather James apprenticed twelve-year old John to a merchant in the new city of Troy. Troy had just been surveyed in 1787 and only had about 500 residents. So John Ellis Wool spent the formative years of his childhood, from age six to twelve, in our town, on his grandfather’s farm.
John Ellis Wool opened his own dry goods store in 1803, quite an accomplishment for a young man of 19. It was on River Street, facing the river, in the downstairs of the building that housed “The Northern Budget” newspaper. The business thrived, and John began to get involved in his community. In 1808 he joined the “Troy Invincibles”, a militia unit, in which he was an ensign. In 1809, the joined the Saint Tammany Association, a civic and political group, which marched in elaborate uniforms in parades. He also married Sarah Moulton that year. She was the daughter of one of his first employers in the city. In 1810, a fire began in the printing office which burned John’s store. His livelihood destroyed, John tried clerking for a lawyer in Troy, and ran for county sheriff, but lost. When the War of 1812 began, Wool enlisted in the Army and obtained a captaincy in the 13th Regiment, due to his militia service.
An interesting sidelight to this career is that John was the executor of his grandfather’s estate when James died in 1805. Why this 21-year-old was the executor and not one of his grandfather’s children, his uncles, we do not know. Perhaps it was in recognition of his intelligence. The will does not survive, but the inventory of the estate is in the files of the Rensselaer County Historical Society. The total value of James Wool’s personal estate was $224.77, almost half of which was debts owed to him by his neighbors. The only animals listed were two cows and eight sheep. The next most valuable possessions were two featherbeds and a fanning mill.
When John Wool joined the Army in 1812, he found his destiny. He was a hero of the War of 1812, promoted to Major after the battle of Queenston, Ontario in 1813, when he served in the regiment of Stephen VanRensselaer. General Van Rensselaer ordered his men to cross the treacherous Niagara River in too few boats at night, then to scale a vertical cliff with the British Army at the top. His nephew Lt. Colonel Solomon VanRensselaer was in the first wave with Captain John Wool. They made it up the cliff and attacked the British. Solomon was badly wounded almost immediately, and Wool stepped in and led the charge, despite the fact that he was also wounded. The attack and invasion ultimately failed, but Wool’s heroism and skill were noted. He served with distinction in the battle of Plattsburgh in 1814, and was promoted to Colonel. By the end of the War, he was Inspector General of the whole U. S. Army.
One of Wool’s later responsibilities was to relocate the Cherokee Indians in what came to be called “The Trail of Tears.” He came under criticism at the time because he refused to allow the state militia working with his federal troops to abuse the Indians. He did his job, but was very sympathetic to the plight of the Indians. By 1841, he was a Brigadier General and Commander of the Department of the East. He traveled throughout the East, visiting each of the military installations under his command. He also traveled to Europe to inspect installations there. Wool had come a long way from Schaghticoke.
During the Mexican War of 1845-1846, General Wool first led his troops 900 miles from San Antonio into Mexico, capturing the city of Saltillo. Then he led his troops in the Battle of Buena Vista, so distinguishing himself that he was awarded a Congressional sword and promoted to Major General. Incidentally, he is the subject of the oldest surviving military photographic image, a daguerreotype of him riding into Mexico City during the War. Wool was mentioned as a possible candidate for Governor of New York in 1850.
After the War, Wool also headed the Department of the Pacific and settled the Indian Wars in Oregon. His letters at the time showed that he was very much against the persecution of the Indians. His reputation as a General was that he was very strict, believed in firm discipline and following the rules to the letter. He did not smoke, used no profanity in a very profane age, and drank in moderation. Interestingly, Wool was only 5’2” tall, but did not need height to have a strong command presence. He felt that honor was man’s chief virtue. But he was no prude. He entertained lavishly, was a wine connoisseur, read widely and often quoted Shakespeare. Throughout his life, he tried to maintain his headquarters in Troy. Wool was famous. He was mentioned as a Presidential candidate in 1852, 1856, and 1860, though he declined any interest in politics.
When the Civil War began, Major General Wool was 76 years old. Despite his age, he rode several hours each day, and was in vigorous health. By this time he did live in Troy much of the time. The 1860 census lists Wool and his wife Sarah at their home on First Street, with a family including Mr. Isaac Hart, gentleman, and his wife, plus three female and two male servants, all but one black.
Wool attended the inauguration of Lincoln, and soon after was back in active service. He secured Fort Monroe, near Norfolk, Virginia, for the Union, vitally important for strategic control of the James River and Chesapeake Bay. He was overall commander when the Rensselaer County Regiment, the 125th, was among those surrendered at Harpers Ferry in September of 1862. He had told the commander, Colonel Miles, not to surrender under any circumstances. His last command was to end the draft riots in New York City in 1863. At that point he was almost 80 years old, the oldest General to serve on either side in the Civil War. The Army retired him, much to his dismay.
John Ellis Wool returned to his home on First Street in Troy, an extremely celebrated man. Military bands from Troy and Albany came by to serenade him often. By 1867, he was in ill health, but supported five families, relatives of his sister and his wife, on the income from his investments. In 1869 he received an honorary degree from Williams College. Later that year, he fell while walking in his garden, and died shortly after. His funeral, out of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, drew 30,000 people into the streets of Troy. 30,000 people- imagine the scene!
He left bequests amounting to $650,000 in his will, a huge sum at the time. He had investments in 25 different banks. Among the inheritors were RPI and Williams College, several orphan asylums, and his Wool cousins in Schaghticoke. His cousin Benjamin was a blacksmith/farmer in Speigletown at the time, and lived on the original family farm. Wool also gave large sums of money to relatives of one of his sisters and to relatives of his wife.
General Wool’s tombstone, quarried in Maine, was the largest single piece of granite to have been excavated to that point, about 60 feet tall. It took four tries for an obelisk to be quarried successfully. It was laboriously moved from Maine to Troy by sea. Mounted on rollers, it was pulled up Hoosick Street by horses, a process which took ten days, and erected in Oakwood Cemetery on an Egyptian-style base, resulting in a total height of about 75 feet. Wool’s home, at the corner of First and Ferry Streets is now owned by Russell Sage College, and is used as an honor students’ dormitory. It still has a Victorian sofa in its living room which was Wool’s. Its wooden parts are carved with his name, plus “Buena Vista”- his important battle in the Mexican War, and “Fortress Monroe,” the fort in Chesapeake Bay which he had responsibility for defending at the start of the Civil War. Fort Wool is close to it today. The Rensselaer County Historical Society owns more of Wool’s furniture, including a beautiful bed, plus one of his presentation swords, his uniform coat from the War of 1812 (a very rare survival), his saddle, a chapeau de bras, and some other uniform parts. The very small coat is proof of Wool’s 5’2” stature. Currently it is a centerpiece of an exhibit at the Candadian War Museum in honor of the Bicentennial of the War of 1812. The gorgeous sword is in the War of 1812 exhibit at the Rensselaer County Historical Society, 57 2nd Street, Troy.
John Wool certainly traveled a long way from his birth en route to New York City, a childhood spent on a farm in rural Schaghticoke with his grandparents, an early apprenticeship and very little formal education, to total success in the US Army, wealth, philanthropy, fame, and sophistication. He must have been an amazing man. It is the quintessential American experience.
Bibliography: Hinton, Harwood; John Wool, U. of Wisconsin, 1960.
Will of John Ellis Wool in the collection of the Rensselaer County Historical Society
Obituary of John Ellis Wool, “New York Times”, Nov. 11, 1869
1860 Federal census
October 30, 2012Posted by on
By summer 1862 it was clear that the Civil War was not going to be over any time soon. It was also clear that many, many men were going to die in the fighting and that more troops were needed. The “Troy Times”, a daily newspaper in the city, had extensive daily updates on the progress of the war and more specifically on the movements of the 2nd New York Infantry, the Troy Regiment.
It seems amazing to me that the 125th NYS Volunteers, the Rensselaer County regiment, was recruited and on its way to Virginia in only six weeks that summer. On July 17, an article entitled “Defend the Country, Uphold the Government” appeared. It advertised a patriotic rally to be held the next evening at the courthouse in Troy to begin the recruitment for another local regiment to enter the fight so that “the government may be upheld, the constitution vindicated, the country preserved, the rebellion crushed, and traitors defeated and punished.” Notice that abolishing slavery was not mentioned. That was not a stated goal of the war at the beginning.
An article the next day called the rally “The Great War Meeting,” and reported that doubtless “the towns along the Troy and Boston Railroad will turn out very large delegations” as a special free train just for the purpose had left Petersburgh at 2. This train would have passed through Schaghticoke. And on July 19, the paper reported that 5000 men had attended the rally, so that there was one meeting inside the courthouse, of as many who could fit, and of the “quality” man, and another on the steps outside. Let’s imagine the scene: 5000 men, many young, of all sorts, from many parts of the county, on a hot July evening in the middle of the city of Troy, some jamming the un-air conditioned court house, others gathering around the steps outside, ready for a long evening of inspiring speeches.
The meeting had a formal chairman, one William Kemp, with a vice president from each town. John A Quackenbush, a 31-year old farmer, was the vice-president for Schaghticoke. They adopted a set of resolutions: 1.) that the war should be brought to a speedy end, 2.) that it is a war for preservation and defense, 3.) that there is a need to serve the county and nation, 4.) praising the NYS bounty of $50 offered to each enlistee, 5.) that there is a need to set up recruiting offices and enlist men as soon as possible, and 6.) that Rensselaer County should match the state bounty. The crowd heard a number of people, judges, professors, lawyers, and clergy speak. At one point a heckler in the outdoor meeting called out to them, “why don’t you enlist yourself? The rich should go too!” At 10 p.m. there was music by Jones’ Band and a Colonel Arnold shot off his cannon, “a babywaker.” He left the ramrod in the barrel and it went through the awning and store window of Mr Staude’s Cigar Store – fortunately without hurting anyone
As the month of July went on, towns throughout the county had their own patriotic rallies, designed to encourage new enlistees. Recruiting offices were set up in Troy, and rumors began to fly about who the Colonel of the new regiment would be. Various men advertised themselves as Captains of companies in the new regiment, and offered various bounties. On July 24 there was a meeting of those authorized to recruit for the new regiment, including John VW Vandenburgh and McGregor Steele for Schaghticoke. The night before there had been a war meeting in Lansingburgh, with speeches and a performance by a glee club. Chauncy Filley of St. Louis, who was visiting in town, said he would give $100 to the first five volunteers, and Dr. I.G. Frazier would give $100 to the next five. The August 4 paper stated that there had been a war meeting in Schaghticoke “last Friday night,” which resolved “we see dangers to our unity, prosperity, and our very being as a nation,” and that the town “ought …to furnish speedily its full quota and more.”
On August 5, President Lincoln announced a draft of 300,000 men for nine months. This pushed the recruitment of the local regiment ahead, as it offered bounties to enlistees, which would not go to draftees. About half the necessary 1000 men had been recruited at that point. Another resolution in the paper called for “a vigorous war ..to be waged on a bitter and relentless foe.” This was signed by prominent men of the area, including Amos Briggs, industrialist of Schaghticoke.
The “Troy Times” announced the completion of each company of 100 men as it occurred. By August 11 the Hoosick Falls company was full, and a camp was opened on the river around Glen St. and River St- then the north end of Troy, where the men reported to be equipped and trained. By August 12,800 men had been recruited, but 347 men had filed claims for military exemptions. Most were firemen, who had important jobs at home, but others had varicose veins, liver complaints, defective vision, or amputated toes or fingers. That day, Captain Diamond’s Company from Nassau and Stephentown marched into camp to be mustered in. The paper trumpeted “Mr TD Platt of Stephentown was compelled to shut down his mill and suspend operations on his farm- his working men having all enlisted! Truly the mountaineers are ablaze with patriotism!”
On August 13 there was a war meeting at James Morrison’s hotel in Speigletown. “A large gathering of the citizens of Lansingburgh, Pittstown, and Schaghticoke is expected to take place, as it promises to be the largest gathering of its kind outside the city of Troy.” Several men from Troy, and Amos Briggs of Schaghticoke were to speak, and “a brass band from Troy will be in attendance and discourse some patriotic airs.”
A full company of 101 had been organized by August 15 in Schaghticoke and was headed for camp in Troy. That day the regiment received the designation as the 125th Also the paper reported that George Lamb Willard, who was already in the regular Army, had been released from his unit and would become the Colonel of the newly numbered regiment. Willard arrived in town on August 22. The paper began to speculate about the departure day of the regiment. . At this point the enlistees were to receive bounties from New York State and Rensselaer County, amounting to about $140, some payable upon enlistment, the rest after several months.
In 1861 George Lamb Willard had worked hard to recruit the first Civil War regiment raised in Rensselaer County, the 2nd NY, expecting to become its Colonel. His picture illustrates this column. He was in the regular Army. He had risen to the officers’ ranks following his heroism in the Mexican-American War as a youth, and was a Captain by the time the Civil War began. An Army regulation forbad currently serving officers from transferring to the new volunteer regiments, so he was not allowed to lead the 2nd. By the time the 125th was being recruited in July and August of 1862, the regulation had been changed due to the lack of qualified officers as the numbers of men in the Union Army grew and grew. So just before the 125th shipped out, Willard arrived to become its commander. The “Troy Times” newspaper reported every step of his progress from his base in the Washington, DC area to Troy.
George Willard had married a girl from Troy, Mary Gould Plum. She was the daughter of Elias Plum, wealthy leather merchant and bank president. They lived at 57 Second Street, now the home of the Rensselaer County Historical Society. The 1861 Troy City Directory lists George Willard as living there.
As men throughout the county enlisted in the 125th, and the companies reached their complement of 100 men, the newspaper named the men appointed Captains of the various companies. They were lettered A-K, and each company was focused on a town in the county. Captain John VW Vandenburgh, became the Captain of Company K of Schaghticoke. Charles A Picket became its 1st Lieutentant and McGregor Steele its 2nd Lieutenant. From my research, Captain Vandenburgh may have had experience as a New York National Guard officer before the war. I know very little about McGregor Steele, who was only in the unit until December of 1862, when he was discharged for unknown reasons.
But Charles Picket was son of an entrepreneur in Schaghticoke named Lewis Picket. In the years before the War, father and son were melodeon manufacturers, and they started a paper mill after the war. Picket had no military experience as far as I know. The newspaper recorded that Picket’s friend William P Bliss presented him with a sword, sash, and belt, and David Myers a uniform on behalf of his friends of Schaghticoke. William Bliss was the President of the Schaghticoke Powder Mill and really a friend of Picket’s father. The sword he presented him survives, owned locally. Myers was a peer of Picket’s, and probably his friends took up a collection to purchase the uniform. The newspaper does report a couple of similar presentations of swords in the regiment, but not the extensive gift that Charles received. We can only speculate about the charisma of the young man who inspired such a gift and/or the patriotism and enthusiasm of the village of Schaghticoke to make such a splendid purchase.
As August 1862 drew to a close, Companies A-K of the 125th NYS Volunteers filled up, 100 men each. Officers were appointed, Colonel Willard arrived. The “Troy Times” reported that its departure was expected any day. The men were mostly in tents in Camp Halleck, located near the Hudson River, at the junction of Glen and River Streets at what was then the north end of Troy.
We can only imagine the scene at the camp- lots of young men away from home from the first time, confusion as to when the regiment would depart, outfitting with new uniforms and weapons, visits from relatives and friends. The camp wasn’t fenced off in any way and was fully accessible to the city. In camp about August 15, a member of Captain Vandenburgh’s company “accidentally shot himself in the hand.” The ball was extracted and the wound dressed. There was also a lot of marching around. On August 21 Captain Myer’s company marched through the city proceeded by Doring’s Band, which “furnished the usual good music.” After saluting the residences of Mayor Thorn, Hon. J.A. Griswold and others, “the company partook of a fine meal at the American House, Alderman Eddy being the generous host of the occasion.” The Saturday before, Captain Esmond’s company had paraded through Lansingburgh.
A lot went into the outfitting a regiment of 1000 men to go to war. In October, the “Troy Times” gave this list: “a full requisition for a regiment calls for the following articles of clothing and equipment: 1015 great coats, 1015 trousers, 1015 blouses, 1015 bootees , 1015 caps, 1030 shirts, 4030 stockings, 2030 great coat straps, 1015 knapsacks, 1015 haversacks, 1015 canteens, 993 privates coats, 343 mess pans, 68 Sibley tents, 28 wall tents, 170 common tents, 1 hospital tent, 161 axes with handles, 161 hatchets with handles, 136 pickaxes with handles, 136 spades, 136 camp kettles, 20 bugles, 10 drums, 10 fifes, 10 camp colors, and 1 national color.” So everyone got a heavy coat, a pair of pants, what we would call a casual or fatigue coat, but they called a blouse, a shirt, a more formal uniform coat boots, a cap, two pairs of socks, a back pack to carry it all, a haversack to carry ammunition and a few small items needed in battle, and a canteen. The mess pans and kettles would be large enough for several men to cook together and the tents big enough for several to sleep together. About half of the men had to carry a digging tool or an axe. They would have to figure out their own bed and bedding.
The “Troy Times” reported the imminent departure of the 1000-man Rensselaer County Regiment for Virginia for about a week in August 1862 before the newly named-125th NYS Volunteer Regiment finally did leave. There must have been much excitement in the camp along the Hudson River as the farm boys and city boys did some marching and bid final good-byes to their families and friends. There was a final delay of a couple of days due to non-payment of the promised enlistment bounties from the county and the state- amounting to $140 in total- a huge amount at the time. But they were finally paid- and either handed over to families or pocketed. It was just a short walk from the camp east to the tracks of the Troy and Boston Railroad. The regiment entrained on 28 cars pulled by two steam locomotives and left at 8 p.m. on August 30. A large crowd assembled at the huge train depot in downtown Troy to watch the train pass through. Many had marched through the streets in a “war procession” to the station. They arrived at the depot just as the train did and “set off vollies (sic) of Roman candles which illuminated the scene. The cars passed through at a very swift pace, presenting a line of fluttering handkerchiefs and joyous faces at each and every window.”
This stirring scene was somewhat spoiled by one of those unexplained train stoppages. The train halted for an hour in south Troy, where some of the men got off to visit friends, and forty didn’t return! The train arrived in New York City at 7 a.m. Spectators waved as they passed Staten Island. After a brief rest at the Park Barracks, the men entrained again in the afternoon, now a total of 976 armed with Enfield rifles. They were fed supper by volunteers in Philadelphia, and then loaded on to freight cars to go on to Baltimore. They suffered their first real discomfort on that journey, from “the fearful jostling of springless cars.” They proceeded directly to Martinsburg, Virginia (now West Virginia), through what the newspaper’s correspondent described as “poverty stricken country,” with “rumors of rebels close by.”
If we think for a minute about the men of Company K, the Schaghticoke boys, they would have been a mixture of farm boys and mill hands, with a couple of clerks thrown in, none with any military experience. Some had been enticed to enlist by the promise of adventure, others fired by patriotism, still others thrilled with the size of the bounty- more money in hand than they had ever seen before. Perhaps others were unsure what they wanted to do with their futures, and figured, why not? They had done a bit of drilling and marching in camp in Troy, but most had arrived there in mid-August, and they were at the front lines at Harpers Ferry, Virginia by early September, probably never having fired their weapons.
Then the whole 125th Regiment met a horrible fate for men set out to fight the rebels and reunite their country: they were captured en masse when the post at Harper’s Ferry surrendered to the Confederates on September 15, without having fired a shot. The regiment was immediately paroled, as the Confederates had no way to imprison the 12,700 men in total who had surrendered. They were stationed at a parole camp, Camp Douglas, in Chicago for two months. Then they were declared exchanged and returned to Virginia. This was the largest surrender of Union soldiers during the war, but has been little written about. In part, I suppose Union historians didn’t want to examine such a major defeat. In part, a much more important battle, Antietam, with 26,000 casualties in one day, occurred just a couple of days later. Let’s look at this event which was so important to our local regiment more closely.
General Robert E. Lee had achieved several victories through the summer of 1862, and was preparing to invade the North. The Union garrison at Harpers Ferry, Virginia stood in his way. It would end up being in his rear as he advanced northward. Stonewall Jackson was sent to take the post with 26,000 men. He conceived a complicated plan of dividing his army in three parts and surrounding the armory and supply depot on three mountains around it. According to Dennis E. Frye, chief historian at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Jackson succeeded brilliantly in surrounding the town, and began an artillery bombardment on September 15. Colonel Dixon Miles, the Union Commander at Harpers Ferry, had orders from his superior, Major General John G. Wool, to “be energetic and active, and defend all places to the last extremity.” This is an important statement to us in Schaghticoke, as General Wool was raised here and had his home in Troy all of his life. But Miles and his advisors, facing annihilation by the Confederate artillery, surrendered the post on September 16. As Miles himself raised the white flag, he was hit by a piece of shrapnel and mortally wounded. Jackson captured 73 cannon, 200 wagons, about 13,000 rifles, and 12,700 prisoners, at the cost of 289 casualties: the biggest Confederate victory of the war.
We are fortunate to have to local views of the capture of Harpers Ferry. Joe Sticklemeyer found, edited, and published the letters of George Bryan of Company K, the Schaghticoke boys, written home to his friend Jennie Ackart. And the “Troy Daily Times” newspaper continued its comprehensive coverage.
On September 8, the newspaper reported that Constable McManus and Chief of Police Barron of Troy had gone south with twenty deserters from the 125th that they had rounded up. They had many adventures, but finally reached the camp in Martinsburg, named Camp Wool,“leaving their friends on the eve of battle” and bringing home 100 letters from soldiers to friends and family. The next day the paper’s correspondent reported that “the enemy are appearing from every direction…if the Confederates march up the heights, Harpers Ferry will be at their mercy. What has the Union done to meet the crisis?” The correspondent was Axiel Ellis, who had worked for the paper and enlisted in the 125th. So it appears that ordinary soldiers were aware of the danger.
Over the next few days, the paper was full of conflicting reports about events at Harpers Ferry. Often stories appearing on the first page of the paper would be contradicted on later pages, as the reporters updated events with new telegrams coming in. On September 15, the paper first stated that General Miles (actually Colonel) and all his command had been captured, “but it is only a rumor of the vaguest sort”, then that there had been no battle at Harpers Ferry. On September 16, the paper reported that the 125th had retreated from Martinsburg to Harpers Ferry, that there had been a battle at Harpers Ferry on Saturday and that Union troops had taken 6000 prisoners! And that Stonewall Jackson had been whipped in three battles. If only that had been true!
After the battle, Axiel Ellis added that during that retreat the inexperienced and untrained 125th had “suffered exceedingly” due to their heavy knapsacks, and most men had ended up throwing away “everything except their arms.”
By September 17 the truth was reported, that the Union had surrendered Harpers Ferry and Colonel Miles had been killed. The September 19 issue gave a full story of the battle, adding that the white flag was “raised to prevent useless sacrifice of life,” but that the men were not happy about it, “a murmur of disapprobation ran along the whole line when it became known that we had surrendered, “though after the surrender, “soldiers on both sides set down to friendly conversation.” The reporter got to see the Confederate commander, Stonewall Jackson. He said “he was dressed in the coarsest kind of homespun, seedy and dirty at that, wore an old hat which any Northern beggar would consider an insult to offer him.” As to the Confederate troops, “the decayed appearance of the rebel soldiers…Ireland in her worst straits could present no parallel.” Also, the reporter was present when Colonel Miles died, and reported his extensive last words very dramatically.
On September 21, the Times reported that several soldiers from the 125th had reached Troy with on-the-spot accounts. One dramatic story reported about the Regiment’s Colonel. “A round shot passed directly under Colonel Willard’s horse. He turned toward the battery from which the shot was fired, took off his hat as coolly as if on parade, and bowed to the enemy.”
On September 25, George Bryan gave wrote his version home to his friend Jennie Ackart. “I suppose you have heard of our misfortune in being taken prisoners by the rebel Jackson’s army. You can judge yourself how I felt when I gave up my gun and equipment to the rebels. I had to march away amidst the cheers of the rebel forces.” George and the 125th were in camp on Sunday morning in Harpers Ferry when the Confederates “opened fire with six or seven batteries on us….they shelled us until dark…they shelled us three or four hours Monday morning” Then the army was surrendered. Bryan already had what became the prevailing opinion of the commander, Colonel Miles: “when the traitor Miles ran up the (white) flag….he was struck by a piece of shell and killed. He met his just reward. At one time the shot and shell flew all around our company, yet not one moved from his place…” Bryan was ready to fight and was deprived of the opportunity.
The Times correspondent Ellis reported that the 125th marched 125 miles to Annapolis, Maryland after the surrender. “The regiment is at present somewhat discontented, dispirited and desirous of returning home until exchanged. The men are much opposed to being retained in camp or garrison.” Rumors swirled about what would become of them. One said that they would be sent to Chicago, another, more hopeful, that Governor Morgan of New York would make arrangements for them to go home. I’m sure that whoever was in charge felt that if the 125th were paroled to their homes, they would never return to the war.
But by the end of September 1862, the 125th was safely, if unhappily, in Camp Douglas in Chicago, Illinois. They had traveled by freight car with rations of “hard bread and partially cooked pork,” but patriotic people along the route had fed them. On the one hand, it must have been interesting for the boys from Schaghticoke to see a part of the country certainly none of them had ever seen before. On the other hand, they were captives in a not-very-sanitary camp. Ellis reported that Camp Douglas, on the shores of Lake Michigan, had comfortable tents, but on October 16, George Bryan wrote to Jennie, “The health of our company is poor. There is about twenty on the sick list.”- out of 100 in the company. George was not feeling well himself, but was still ready to fight, “I should like to meet a rebel hand to hand.” Ellis concurred that the men didn’t want a discharge, were “ready to take up arms, but feel they should have a short furlough.”
George described some of the living conditions of the company. The breakfast food was roast corn. Just before the fight at Harpers Ferry, he stated, “I have eaten enough roast corn since I have been out here to fat a hog. You know I used to tell you that hogs eat corn. I think as far as eating is concerned I have degenerated to a hog. I have made many a meal of hard crackers and raw bacon and pork, yet I am well and hearty and like to have a good time as well as I ever did.”
In Camp Douglas on October 16, he reported, “I have no place to sleep but on the ground.” It must have been getting chilly in Chicago in October. Bryan signed that letter as orderly sergeant, so he had already been promoted from his mustering in as a private. By November 2, 33 of the 100 men of Company K were sick, his and Jennie’s friend, Chauncey Crandall was in the hospital, and Ezra Burch had typhoid fever. He died a few days later. He was just the first to die. George wrote, “there is someone to blame from the many diseases of this camp…it is a sickly place around Chicago.” I’m sure that there was no intent to lose men to sickness and death due to bad conditions. Partly the system must have been overwhelmed by the sudden arrival of almost 13,000 men, and partly the sanitation of the time was just not what we have today.
Morale was poor. Axiel Ellis reported that “a spirit bordering on mutiny has been manifested. George added that men were deserting as well. The company was down to 85. At least two of their officers were allowed furloughs. Captain Vandenburgh accompanied the body of Ezra Burch at least as far as Troy, and Lieutenant Steele had a twenty day furlough due to his ill health. Ordinary soldiers did not receive furloughs, however. How could there not be great frustration to just be sitting around- if they couldn’t go fight, why couldn’t they go home?!
In my research into Company K of the 125th, I have found nine men who deserted in October in Chicago: Emery Beauchamp, Thomas Brand, Levi Buffett, Martin Roddy, James Scott, Joseph Slocum, and William Wolf deserted for good. William Martin returned to duty in May, 1863, presumably having spent the winter and spring at home, just in time to be wounded at Gettysburg in July. George Wolf also returned. In general, there just wasn’t sufficient manpower to search for men who went AWOL. And those who returned to duty were allowed to do so, perhaps with loss of pay as a penalty. I also found that musician Francis Hagadorn was discharged for disability in Chicago in March, 1863, long after the 125th had gone back to Virginia. He must have been in the hospital all that time. Josiah Slocum, an old soldier at 44, was also discharged for disability in Chicago, and David Johnson died in December in Chicago.
On the bright side, George told Jennie he was “glad to hear that you have formed an aid society for the benefit of the soldiers.” Only a month or so after the 125th had shipped out, the folks at home were thinking of their welfare. On September 13th “Troy Times” printed a long, long list of items put together by the ladies of Hoosick to the Sanitary Commission, the organization formed to help supply the troops. The list ranged from $150 in cash to quarts of currant jelly, jars of pickles, clothing and fabric for hospital use, pillows, canned tomatoes and onions, woolen socks, bottles of wine, gallons of vinegar, dried fruit, and pairs of pants, stockings, and slippers.
By the time George wrote to Jennie again, it was December 8th, 1862, and the address was “camp near Bullrun, Virginia.” The 125th had left Chicago by train on November 22, and “three days and four nights later” they were at Washington, DC. The 1000 man regiment was down to 675 men and 55 sick soldiers. Some soldiers were too sick to travel, including the “Troy Times” correspondent, Axiel Ellis, who died November 27 in Chicago, leaving a widow and two children.
The regiment received supplies and tents, and then was moved around several times in the vicinity of Centerville, Virginia. Each time George told Jennie about the winterization of their camp, they would have to move again, “but such is the life of a soldier.” George finally received a box that Jennie had sent him on January 2, 1863. “My box had been opened and some of the things taken out. All that was left was the stockings and mittens and some apples and crackers and paper and envelopes…I was sorry when I read your letters and found that most of the things had been lost. Yet I am thankful for them. It is very pleasant to me to know that I have friends at home.” If that was what was left in the box, it must have been incredibly stuffed.
The rations had improved since Chicago. “We have fresh beef once in five days and bread twice in five days; so we fare very well now.” For one supper, George described, “there is three of us in my tent…Fried some bread and meat together, it was kind of hash. We had bread and coffee to eat with it.” The men had to group together and cook for themselves- there was no Army mess as there is now.
For heat in that winter, he said, “We get a pan of coals in our tents and we get seated around it. And can have merry times.” George was keeping busy studying for promotion. They were all waiting for spring and the campaign season to begin.
In February, George described the land around the camp to Jennie. “We are camped on the top of a hill…We are in sight of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Manassas plains. There is earthworks all around our camp…” He states that 150,000 Rebels had camped in the area the winter before. George also answered questions she had asked in previous letters. What were the prospects of a battle? “we may be attacked before morning and we may stay here a year and not see any Rebels.” How would he feel about going into battle? “I enlisted to fight and do not mean to go home..until I have seen some more fight.”
In March, George reported he had been promoted to lieutenant and assigned to Company D, away from his friends in Company K. “At first I was quite lonesome, but now I am at home; I like the company.” There were raids by the Confederate cavalry quite frequently, and George spent many nights on picket duty. “I would much rather risk my life in battle than to be out so often all night in rainy weather…one is a slow death, the other honor or quick death.” Jennie must have asked if he was a Christian, as George replied, “I am far from being a Christian. I am sorry to have to say..” The lousy weather and strain of being on picket duty one night out of three were really wearing him down. He was eager to get going and participate in a decisive battle.
In May 1863 the regiment finally moved, but only about five miles. George went to Washington, D.C. for a day, and came back to find the regiment “encamped in a pine grove. It was the pleasantest place I have seen since I have been in the army. ….the first night I stayed there it was as pleasant a time as I have enjoyed in a long time. From retreat until tattoo the officers all met together around a large campfire. I passed about two hours in telling stories and singing. I wish you could have been where you could have seen us.”
That “pleasant” letter contrasts strongly with a slightly later one in May, where George describes having “seen men that have died in almost all ways, have seen one that was murdered by a soldier, and those that have died of disease in hospitals, and those that have been killed by accident, and some that were killed in battle.” “I used to dread the sight of a corpse, but now it is no new sight.” “Yet one thing we always try and do to those that die in our camp, that is to give them a military burial.”
On June 19, George wrote, “I have just had some lemonade and figs and now have lit my cigar, so you can see that I do not suffer any.” But excitement was building, “we expect a fight here every day.” More and more troops were arriving at camp. “It is so noisy and much exerting here that I cannot have much time to write.”
Those who are familiar with the history of the Civil War will know what fight was coming……but I will deal with it this July.
Frye, Dennis, E. website of the Harpers Ferry National Park:
Stickelmyer, Joseph, ed., “Friend Jennie,” 2009.
“Times Record” newspaper- various editions through July-September, 1862, on microfilm
Website of the Division of Military and Naval Affairs: http://dmna.ny.gov/historic/reghist/civil/infantry/125thInf/125thInfMain.htm
September 24, 2012Posted by on
Thus far in my weekly column, I have talked about the people who settled Schaghticoke, from the Native Americans to the Dutch, Palatines, and immigrants from New England. I have focused on a few famous individuals and families, the development of local government, the industrial revolution, and the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Now I’ll go back to the start of European colonization of the town and discuss the spiritual lives of the settlers.
In 1700, Robert Livingston, Indian Commissioner for the Colony of New York, wrote to Governor Bellomont, requesting “a Fort at Schaghticoke and a Minister seated there, which would be a means to settle those Indians, and draw many of the Eastern Indians to them.” Livingston was concerned that the Schaghticoke Indians might be recruited to the French side in the ongoing French and Indian Wars. He felt that a fort and a church might be good inducements to keep them loyal to the English. He got the fort soon after, but the church had to wait until after Dutch settlers arrived in some numbers in 1709. According to the 1880 History of Rensselaer County by Sylvester, the first Dutch Reformed Church was built in 1715, a log structure near the junction of Route 67 and Knickerbocker Road. This was the first house of worship north of Albany. One source says that this church was burned by Indians from Canada during King George’s war in 1746. Sylvester goes on to say that the “new” meeting house was built in 1760, “a good specimen of the quaint style of church architecture” of the 1700’s, “60 x 40 feet, with low side-walls and a high-pitched Mansard roof, finished at the east end with a bulbous turret surmounted by a weathercock.” It had a pulpit with a canopy, on a high pedestal, and a “quaint” communion table. This was replaced with a new church on the same site in 1833, “a very good house but considerably modernized.” This burned about 1870, and was replaced by a church built near what is now a small airport, further west on Route 67 toward Mechanicville. That building burned in 1934. It was also topped by a weathercock, “a 5-foot-tall bronze affair weighing about 500 pounds,” perhaps transported from the first church.
Schaghticoke Dutch Reformed Church, from the 1856 map of the town
Little is known of the early pastors of the church. It seems certain that there was no full-time minister until at least 1773. The records of the church survive from 1745-1866. The originals are in the New York State Library. I have a transcription of the records, done in 1909, and indexed by my mother. This transcription lists the first two pastors, Theodorus Frelinghuysen, 1745-1759, and Eilardus Westerlo, 1760-1773, as “supply” ministers, which would mean that they preached at the church only from time to time during the years. Sylvester’s history indicates that Frelinghuysen “preached so sharply against certain ‘fast’ habits of the soldiers and others” that he was much disliked. “One morning he found beside his door a staff, a pair of shoes, and a silver dollar.” He took those as a hint that he should leave, which he did, committing suicide on ship while en route to Holland, “so much did he brood over his troubles.” Who knows if that is true, but it’s a great story. I did find a mention of Theodorus on Wikipedia, the son of another Theodorus Frelinghuysen, both ministers, with a death date of c. 1760. The senior Frelinghuysen was an extremely prominent person in the Dutch Reformed Church.
It is important to note that church services in Schaghticoke were conducted in Dutch until about 1800. This was true at all the Dutch Reformed Churches in the area. For example, the Niskayuna Reformed Church had services in Dutch and English until 1812. The Schaghticoke church records were in Dutch until about 1800 as well. The second full-time minister at the church, Lambertus DeRonde, was deeply embroiled in the controversy that accompanied the change from Dutch to English in the wider Dutch Reformed Church in America. DeRonde was born in Holland in 1720 and arrived in New York in 1750, leaving a pastorate in Surinam, on the north coast of South America. DeRonde was hired by a church in New York City immediately, but soon became aware that there was great debate over whether ministers should switch to English. DeRonde worked hard to learn English, even writing a number of religious works in his new language, but supported the faction which advocated continuing to have services in Dutch. The English faction won, and he was forcibly retired in 1785 ending up in Schaghticoke, definitely a back water. He may have been acting as an associate pastor here as early as 1776, which would mean he was here during dangerous time as well, as the area was evacuated during the Revolution. He and his parishioners here were probably increasingly bilingual. DeRonde translated the new US Constitution into Dutch for those who weren’t in 1788.
DeRonde owned a farm just beyond the Mansion on Knickerbocker Road. The 1790 census lists De Ronde with a household of two other white males over 16, two females, and five slaves. One of the females was his wife, Maria Catherina, who was born in Holland in 1719, died in 1801, and is buried in the Knickerbocker Cemetery. The records of the church list the marriage of Adriaan DeRonde and Hendrikje Van Woert on July 12, 1787. They had a daughter, Margrieta Catrina baptised in 1791, and twins Matthew and Cornelia baptised in 1801, with Matthew and Cornelia Witbeck DeRonde as godparents. Interestingly, the list of members of the church in 1765 included Henderick Lent and his wife Catterina Deronde and in 1768 Aultje and Lena DeRonde. We don’t know how or if these earlier DeRondes were related to Lambertus. De Ronde died in 1795 and was originally buried on his farm. According to notes in my files, DeRonde’s body was exhumed some years later when the Dutch Reformed Consistory in New York City came to realize DeRonde’s importance to the history of the church. He was reinterred in the Knickerbocker Cemetery, with an impressive monument erected by the Consistory of New York. An ornamental fir tree planted next to that monument has grown to be huge over the years, and its roots knocked over that monument, which had been made in sections.
The probate records of Rensselaer County include a fascinating inventory of the estate of Lambertus DeRonde, made after his death in early 1796. Adriaan and Matthew DeRonde helped make the inventory, but were not identified as his sons. Matthew, son of Adriaan, was described as “one of the nearest kin of the deceased.” They may have been nephews, but according to the census, probably lived with DeRonde. Matthew died in 1813 and is also buried in the Knickerbocker Cemetery.
But let’s return to the inventory. It begins with a list of 223 books in Dutch, 12 in English, and 69 in Latin. From the titles, many were religious works, and they were valued at a total of about 175 pounds, a considerable sum. To me it is amazing to think of a library that size on the frontier of New York State before 1800. It also indicates that while DeRonde was bilingual, his preference was Dutch. The inventory goes on to list 14 silver tablespoons, 1 silver tankard, 4 salt cellars, and 4 small spoons, 1 silver shaven (shaving?) dish, 1 punch ladel (sic), 1 Negro Man,…wait, what? Yes, slavery was common in well-off Dutch families, and DeRonde, even though he was a minister, had a Negro man and a Negro woman, each valued at 70 pounds, plus two Negro girls, one valued at 30 pounds, one at 20 pounds; one Negro boy valued at 25 pounds, and a second at 14 pounds.
DeRonde also had the belongings of a farmer: 5 cows; 2 heifers; 4 yearlings; 40 sheep; 4 horses each valued at 10 pounds; plus 2 other mares, one valued at 15 pounds, one at 20; 1 sow; and 13 shoats (piglets). He also had 2 wagons, 2 slays (sic), 2 plows, a harrow, and 1 windmill. Furnishings of the house included 3 featherbeds, 2 large looking glasses, 16 pictures, a mahogany tea table, and 12 Windsor chairs. Tableware included 25 Cheany plates- maybe china?, 12 pewter water plates- these would have allowed hot water to be placed inside to keep food warm- and 10 other pewter plates, 10 knives and forks, 3 brass and 4 pewter candlesticks, 1 pewter tea kettle and 1 pewter coffee pot, plus 1 (silver) plated oil and venigar (sic) server. There were also two tobacco boxes, one wooden, one pewter. The total estate was valued at 729 pounds.
Lambertus DeRonde was a well-educated, sophisticated man, with a European education, who lived in New York City for many years. In retirement he lived in a small, rural community on the frontier, but was surrounded by the possessions he had collected over a life-time.
The records of the Dutch Reformed Church are a great source for genealogists. They are the earliest vital records of residents of the town of Schaghticoke. Because there was no other church in the area until about 1776, many people who were not Dutch Reformed, and who lived quite far away, were married and had babies baptised in the church.
The record of pastors of the Dutch Reformed Church ends with J.A. Harper, the pastor from 1905-1909, but the records of baptisms and marriages dwindles, and ends with a few entries in the 1860’s. It is significant that when the church was rebuilt in 1870, it was relocated. The original center of population in Schaghticoke, in the old Albany Corporation Lands around the Knickerbocker Mansion, was now a backwater, supplanted by the growing village of Schaghticoke. It may have seemed that the new site, near a railroad station at the hamlet of Reynolds, and closer to the ferry to Mechanicville, would access more people. The church was reincorporated in 1872 by elders John A. VanVeghten, H.A. Hemstreet, and deacons James Webster, Ira Button, and William H. Fort. They all lived in that area. But the church continued to lose membership, and was not rebuilt after it burned in 1934.
Bibliography: notes by Rodney O. Winans in the files of the historian
Goodfriend, Joyce D. “The Cultural Metamorphosis of Dominie Lambertus DeRonde”, Hudson Valley Regional Review, Spring 2009. P 63-75.
Transcription of the records of the Dutch Reformed church, collection of the historian
Sylvester, Nathan , History of Rensselaer County, 1880.
September 24, 2012Posted by on
Why should we care about the War of 1812? Now the U.S. Civil War, that’s something else. We are in the midst of celebrating the 150th Anniversary of that great and horrible war. There are many reasons why that war was of immense importance to our nation and locality, and thousands of books have been written about it. Comparatively little research and writing has been done about the War of 1812. But it was of great importance to our nation, state, and locality.
The War of 1812 began after diplomacy failed to solve the problem of Great Britain interfering with American shipping, as the U.S. struggled to stay neutral while France (under Napoleon) and Great Britain were at war. America felt Great Britain had failed to respect her independence, and was also interfering with her westward expansion into the Ohio Valley. I was shocked to learn that the British continued to occupy Fort Ontario, at Oswego, New York, until 1794!
The borders of New York State with Canada were the major battlegrounds of the war. The initial American goal was to invade and conquer Canada. This obviously failed, or U.S. borders would be quite different! There were land and naval campaigns on both Lakes Ontario and Champlain.
Nationally, our success- or at least our non-failure- in the war cemented the United States as a real nation, and real world power, which would survive a rocky start. The war also produced one of our national symbols, Uncle Sam. Samuel Wilson was a Troy meatpacker who provided supplies to the large military base or cantonment in East Greenbush. The well-documented story goes that the initials U.S., stamped on his barrels of meat, came to stand for his nickname, Uncle Sam. There is an Uncle Sam Trail, which will take you to sites in Troy connected with his life and death. He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery. Check out the website http://www.unclesamtroy.org for lots more information.
The East Greenbush Cantonment was the headquarters of the Army of the North. As many as 5000 soldiers were quartered throughout the war in about 20 buildings in the area of what is now known as Hampton Manor. One large barracks building survives to this day. I find it amazing that the “Troy Post” newspaper of the time records events of the War of 1812 in great detail, but never discusses the presence of 5000 soldiers.
Just last week an excellent exhibit about Rensselaer County and the War of 1812 opened at the Rensselaer County Historical Society in Troy, New York. It is open Thursday-Saturday from noon to five. It includes a wonderful scale model of the cantonment. The society also has a permanent exhibit about Uncle Sam.
Samuel Wilson is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Troy. In September, the President General and New York State Regent of the Daughters of the American Revolution installed new benches at and new signage leading to “Uncle Sam’s” grave.
Of course, I am interested in Schaghticoke’s part in the war. Unfortunately, at this point there is not much information on Schaghticoke men in the war. The pension papers of Revolutionary War veterans are all online, but those of the War of 1812 vets are not, though that accomplishment is a goal of the National Archives. There is some information on local men and events.
One of the biggest effects of the War on Schaghticoke was the founding of the Powder Mill by the Masters brothers on the Tomhannock Creek. That industry was begun in 1812 to produce black powder for use by the U.S. military in the war. The Schaghticoke Powder Company was in business in Schaghticoke and Pittstown until 1928, making a strong contribution to the local economy.
One of the most famous people ever to live in Schaghticoke, John Ellis Wool, began his military career in the War of 1812. He was raised by his grandfather, who had a farm on what is now Wetsel Road, off Fogarty Road in the southern part of the town. He had experience in a Troy militia unit before the war, so that when he enlisted in the regular Army, it was as a Captain. After the battle of Queenston, Ontario in 1813, he was promoted to Major for his heroism. After the battle of Plattsburgh in 1814, he was promoted to Colonel, and by the end of the war he was Inspector General of the whole U.S. Army. He went on to be a General in the Mexican and Civil Wars and was proposed as a Presidential candidate. The Rensselaer County Historical Society in Troy has quite a few of the possessions of Wool, including his uniform coatee from the War of 1812. This extremely rare coatee is currently on loan to the Canadian War Museum as part of an exhibit in celebrating the bicentennial of the war. One of the glorious memorial swords he received for his military valor is part of the exhibit at the Historical Society.
Jonathan Read was in an artillery company of militia from Pittstown, which may have included Schaghticoke residents. Shortly after the war began in 1812, Read’s artillery unit was called to service for three months, as a part of 13,500 militia men mobilized by Governor Tompkins in New York State. Read left a journal of his service, a Xerox of which is in the Rensselaer County Historical Society. Unfortunately he only gives names of others in his company as appropriate- for example, if a man became ill, or was court martialled. So we don’t know many of the men who were with him. His commander was Captain, later Major, Andrew Brown.
The Company left Pittstown on September 15, 1812, met up with another company in Waterford, and walked to Sackets Harbor, on Lake Ontario just west of Watertown. Achieving from 12 to 18 miles a day, they arrived in Sackets Harbor on Sunday, October 4. The company finished its three months of duty on December 18. Read stayed a few more days, leaving with a few others on December 23rd. They traveled by sleigh, making about 25 miles a day, arriving in Lansingburgh on December 29th. Read walked home to Pittstown the next day.
While Read’s militia company did see a bit of action, sparring with the British on the opposite shore several times, there was no major battle during his service. The main battle of Sackets Harbor took place on May 29, 1813. Read recorded just one fatality in the company, a man who died of disease. Indeed, he seemed to have enjoyed his deployment. He recorded generous hospitality in the inns they stayed near both going and returning, and made no mention of any hardships or deprivations. He often described the countryside they passed through, noting soil type and vegetation. Surprisingly, he recorded seeing two deer on the trip home, the first he had ever seen. He also ate venison for the first time on that journey. He summarized that he had been away from home for three months and twelve days and traveled 475 miles. Google Maps gives the distance as about 420 miles- so his estimate was quite accurate.
There is a New York State Historical site in Sackets Harbor, on the site of the battle. During the summer, the commandant’s house and other exhibits are open. There will be a bicentennial celebration on May 29, 2013. http://nysparks.com/historic-sites/7/details.aspx.
According to Sylvester’s “History of Rensselaer County”, William Knickerbacker, resident of the Mansion at the time, was Colonel of a local militia regiment during the War of 1812. He states, “Many from this town either participated in the war or were in the “Eddy expedition” so called, that marched north at the time of Plattsburgh, but was not in time to join that fight and returned home in a few days.” Thanks to Ronald Bachman and his book about Michael Vandercook of Pittstown, “A Fine Commanding Presence”, we know more about the Eddy expedition and the local militia in the war in general. Michael Vandercook, born in 1774, had been in the militia for many years. He was appointed Brigade Major and Inspector of the Third Brigade when Governor Tompkins called up the militia and divided it into eight brigades at the start of the war.
In June of 1812, Vandercook was ordered to go to Plattsburgh, along with militia men- this probably included local people. General Henry Dearborn was supposed to be executing an invasion of Canada and the capture of Montreal. After much delay, Dearborn acted in November. The militia men were virtually unequipped for battle and many refused to cross the border into Canada. The invasion failed. Vandercook and the militia were discharged from duty in time to be home by Christmas.
But on to “the Eddy expedition”. In the summer of 1814, the British attempted to invade New York State via Lake Champlain. The militia were called out again, and Michael Vandercook’s service record notes that the 8th Brigade, led by General Gilbert Eddy, was “mustered at Troy & Schaghticoke” on the 8th, the muster completed on the 13th. They headed north for Plattsburgh on September 13, and reached Granville by September 16. At that point they received word that the British had been defeated in the Battle of Lake Champlain on September 11 and were discharged to go home.
At least two other local men in the Knickerbocker Regiment, the 45th NYS Militia, were Isaac Tallmadge, who was a lieutenant, and Alexander Bryan, who was a captain.
Plattsburgh, New York, has a small museum about the battle, and a tall monument to the naval commander, Thomas McDonough. There is a re-enactment of the battle every September. : http://www.champlain1812.com/
It seems that the impact of the War of 1812 on Schaghticoke and Pittstown was relatively minimal. Matters could have been quite different if the Canadian invasion of New York had succeeded! It did result in one new and important industry- the Powder Mill. Perhaps local farmers helped supply the large Cantonment at East Greenbush. And some local militia men got to travel away from home for the first time.
September 21, 2012Posted by on
I’ve written before about the most famous family in the history of Schaghticoke, the Knickerbackers. I will say again, if you haven’t visited the KnickerbockerMansion, you must! Look at their website: www.knickmansion.com for information on upcoming events. The Knickerbackers, Dutch from Albany, were among the first few European families to settle in Schaghticoke in 1708. In the next generation, John or Johannes Knickerbacker was Colonel of the local militia regiment in the Revolutionary War. His son John was among the ten wealthiest residents of town in 1800.
It was John’s son Herman, who knew author Washington Irving. Irving made Knickerbacker into an iconic name, a symbol of being a New Yorker. Herman or Harman Knickerbacker or Knickerbocker was born on July 20, 1779. He was the sixth child of fourteen of John Knickerbacker, Jr. and Elizabeth Winne. Three of the children, including an earlier Herman, born in 1770, did not survive childhood. Herman had three brothers, William, John, and Abraham. Perhaps because Herman would not be the principal heir, or perhaps because he just was more ambitious or more academically inclined than his brothers, Herman studied to be a lawyer. Of course, John, a wealthy man, could afford to have his son be a student rather than go right to work. Herman was a child of privilege.
According to one of his obituaries, Herman studied law with John V. Henry in Albany and John Bird in Troy. Both were important men. John V. Henry was the son of a merchant in Albany. Born in 1767, he was admitted to the bar in 1791. In 1800 he became Comptroller of New York State and was later the state Attorney General. John Bird, born in Litchfield, Connecticut in 1768, was a graduate of Yale, who came to Troy in 1793- very early in its history. He was a Federalist, elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1799. Herman had two powerful mentors in these men. He also became a Federalist, and jumped into politics even as he was admitted to the bar in 1803.
As an ambitious young man, Herman leapt into many things at once. Though he lived in Schaghticoke, Herman had his own law firm in Albany, in partnership with Job Pierson. Job was a newcomer to Schaghticoke, and a graduate of WilliamsCollege. He completed his training to become a lawyer in Herman’s office in 1815. They were partners until 1835. Knickerbacker was appointed a Captain in a new troop of cavalry in the local militia in 1801. Fellow residents Bethel Mather and John Vanderspiegel were appointed Lieutenants. Mather lived where the M & T Bank is in Schaghticoke now, and Vanderspiegel was the founder of Speigletown, the southern section of the town of Schaghticoke. . Continuing his military career, in 1810, Herman was appointed Major in the 3rd Regiment of Cavalry. An item in the “Troy Post” of October 15, 1816, announces the annual review of the squadron of cavalry of RensselaerCounty at Lansingburgh on October 17 at 10 o’clock in the forenoon by order of H. Knickerbacker, commandant. Herman must have been an excellent horseman. So now Herman had a career as a lawyer and entrée into his community as a leader in the militia.
This portrait, courtesy of the New York Historical Society, shows Herman Knickerbacker as a young man. Doesn’t he look confident?
Herman became a trustee of the new Presbyterian Church in Schaghticoke in 1806, soon after its founding in 1803. He was chosen at a meeting of the church’s founders at the home of Bethel Mather, with whom he was also in the militia. Pews in the newly constructed meeting house were sold in 1820. This was how the building was financed. Herman bought pew 35 for $35 and pew 36 for $36. A couple of other men bought two pews, but Herman’s was one of the higher monetary totals. His law partner Job Pierson also bought a pew. Perhaps this religious involvement was somewhat politically motivated, as none of Herman’s children was baptized in the Presbyterian Church. Even two children born after the pew purchase were baptized in the old-line Dutch Reformed Church.
Herman also entered politics. He served as Supervisor of the town of Schaghticoke for the first time from 1805-1806. He also served in 1813, from 1818-1823, and from 1825-1826. Knickerbacker reached what turned out to be the pinnacle of his political career when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1809. He followed his mentor Bird by only eight years, and directly followed another town resident, Josiah Masters. Like them, he was a Federalist. At the time the major political issue of the day was the coming War of 1812. The Federalists opposed the war. President Thomas Jefferson and the U.S. Congress imposed an embargo on U.S. trade with Great Britain in 1807. The embargo devastated the economy, though it did encourage the development of domestic industry.
According to an 1833 newspaper article, Herman’s maiden speech in the House was against the continuance of the Embargo. He spoke of the negative effects of the embargo on the citizens of Schaghticoke. “It is said that he painted the suffering of his constituents so pathetically, and with such a masterly hand, that he threw the House of Representatives into convulsions of laughter.” Herman only served one term in Congress. It seems that many people today serve for many terms in Congress, but during this period, it was common for a Congressman to serve just one term.
After his time in Washington, Herman continued to be very active in politics. In the “Troy Post” in 1813, there was an advertisement for the “Assembly Peace Ticket”. The Federal Republicans (Federalists) of RensselaerCounty met to nominate men to run for the N.Y.S. Assembly. Bethel Mather of Schaghticoke was one of the nominees, and Herman Knickerbacker was the secretary of the group. They called for “Peace, Liberty, and Commerce.” Herman continued in this role. In 1815, with the war over, the Federalists ran a long campaign ad, listing the many debts incurred and taxes imposed by the Republican government during the war, with nothing to show for it in the peace treaty ending it, and encouraging all to vote for the Federalist ticket.
Herman served one term in the New York State Legislature in 1816, winning by a considerable margin over his Republican foe. There was a controversy over seating one of the legislators of the opposite party in a disputed election. Herman participated in a walk-out with other Federalists over the affair, saying “it was our duty; when we perceived that reason and argument were impotent to withstand the lust for office and the madness of faction.” This sounds like something that could happen today!
Knickerbacker ran for the NYS Senate in 1819 and 1822, but by then the Federalist party was losing sway, and in fact disappearing. He lost to the Republican candidate each time. Meanwhile he was serving as Supervisor of the town of Schaghticoke. In 1828, Knickerbocker changed his politics and became a Democrat and supporter of Andrew Jackson. According to his obituary, he carried with him “a large majority of the Federalists in his town” as he did. The obituary adds that “he was a great admirer of the late DeWitt Clinton and enjoyed the confidence and friendship of that eminent statesman.” In 1828 he was also named First Judge of Rensselaer County, a position he held for the rest of his life. He was referred to thereafter as “Judge Knickerbacker.”
Throughout, he was an active attorney, farmer, and industrialist. Basically every early 19th century deed or will of a person in Schaghticoke which I have examined has Herman’s name in it somewhere- either as a creditor or a lawyer. For example, while examining the probate papers of Andrew Diver, a well-off local man who died in 1809, I found that Herman Knickerbacker was the attorney. When Josiah Masters, the local man who had served in Congress just before Herman, died in 1822, Knickerbacker was the administrator of the estate. I have found two deeds where bankrupt people sold their land to Knickerbacker and partners, unable to pay back loans to them. They would have to sell the land to recoup their loans. In 1828 William and Olive Slocum of Schaghticoke sold all their real and personal estate to Herman and a couple of others to satisfy their debts. Knickerbacker had endorsed several of Slocum’s promissory notes, which Slocum was now unable to pay, and had been awarded a judgment of about $5000 in Supreme Court.
When the Rensselaer County Agricultural Society was founded in 1819, Herman was chosen the first Vice President, illustrating his involvement both in agriculture and politics. In census listings, Herman listed his occupation as “farmer.”
In 1811, Knickerbacker became the President of the Farmers Manufacturing Company, incorporated at Schaghticoke Point (the village of Schaghticoke) to make “woolen, cotton and linen goods, and for making glass and from ore bar-iron, anchors, mill irons, steel, nail, rods, hoop iron, and ironmongery, sheet lead, shot, white lead, and red lead.” The trustees were Jonathan Mosher, Aaron Bemus, Ebenezer Deval, Harmon Groesbeck, and Joel Tallmadge. Richard P. Hart took over as President by 1819, and it became part of his huge mill holdings in the gorge of the HoosicRiver. It was one of the earliest industrial ventures trying to take advantage of the power of the HoosicRiver, and Herman got in at the start. Perhaps it was a case of the investors wanting a prominent person as President, and Herman, just finishing a term as U.S. Congressman, would have been that. But as will be seen later, Herman had other mill ventures.
Herman’s father, John, died in 1827. He left 1,166 acres around the KnickerbockerMansion, divided into three farms. William, the eldest son, had the first choice, and sons John and Abraham inherited the other two. Abraham ended up with the 332 acre home farm and the mansion. Herman inherited “Gailord’s land”, and the rights to a mill that his grandfather had had. An 1826 codicil left Herman a farm that had belonged to James VanAntwerp. One of these pieces of land may have been where he actually lived on the Tomahannock Creek. Law partner Job Pierson lived nearby.
Besides his involvement in beginning a mill on the Hoosic River, Herman constructed mills himself, located near his home on the Tomahannock Creek, just to the east of where it crosses Route 40. An 1833 newspaper article reports that Knickerbacker “resides about a mile south of the village at the Point, on a singularly wild and romantic spot, upon the bank of Tomahnnock Creek. His ample brick mansion Knickerbacker embosomed in a grove, which he planted with his own hands, forty years ago. ..Below his mansion, Judge K has a number of mills, and likewise a Satinet Manufactory, all his own. He oversees these works himself, and likewise cultivates several extensive and very rich and beautiful farms.” (Satinet was an imitation satin, made of cotton.) To develop the mills, he would have had to construct a dam and its associated water courses. An 1839 deed records Herman selling some land on the Tomhannock to a principal in the Powder Mill. It discusses water rights, noting that Herman gave the buyer the right to use 1/3 of the water from HIS dam, and that he, Knickerbacker, was responsible for maintaining the dam.
So you can see that Knickerbacker was involved in all aspects of his community, and indeed his county and state. But he was also a very busy and involved family man. He married his first wife, Arietta Lansing in 1801. She was a daughter of Abraham Lansing and Else VanRensselaer of Albany. Thus Herman married into two of the most prominent Albany families. They had five children before her death in 1814. They had four children baptized in the Schaghticoke Dutch Reformed Church: Abraham Lansing, born in 1802, with godparents Abraham and Elsie Lansing Jr.; Elizabeth Maria, born in 1805; Catharine, born 1808; and Rebecca, born in 1813. The 1810 census of Schaghticoke lists H. Knickerbacker with a family of 2 males, 3 females, and 4 slaves.
Arietta died in April 1814. Herman married Rachel Wendell in December. He needed a mother for those five small children. Rachel was the daughter of John H. Wendell and Catherine VanBenthuysen of Albany. Wendell had been an officer in the Revolution, called “General” in later life, though he had not really achieved that rank. He was a prominent attorney who served in the N.Y.S. Assembly and as Albany County surrogate, treasurer, and justice of the peace. I find it interesting that Herman again married a girl from a well-known Albany family rather than from Schaghticoke. Herman would assuredly have known a fellow member of the bar in Albany. He and Rachel had five more children. Daughter Arietta was born in November 1815. Cathalina Wendell, born in 1817 had her grandfather Wendell as godfather. Daughter Maria VanVeghten was born in 1819, son John in 1821, and daughter Rachel Jane in 1822. All were baptized in the Dutch Reformed Church in Schaghticoke. Now there were three sons and seven daughters.
At a time when public education was just becoming established, and many girls received little or no education, Herman aspired to more for his daughters. Four of his daughters by first wife Arietta attended the Troy Female Seminary, now EmmaWillard School. Elizabeth attended Emma Willard’s first school in Waterford in 1820. Emma Willard was a pioneer in education for women. Elsie attended her Troy Seminary in 1822, Catharine in 1824-1825, and Rebecca in 1828. Arietta, a daughter of Herman and second wife Rachel, attended from 1830-1832.
The 1820 census lists Herman with a family of 1 male between 16 and 18, 1 between 16 and 26, 4 females under 10, 3 from 10-15, and 1 female slave from 26-44 years of age. Just a note on slaves: Slavery was gradually abolished in New YorkState, beginning in 1799. Blacks born after that date would be free after a certain number of years, with all to be free in 1827. A second note: Herman may have lived in a house near his brothers at this point, as they all appear on the same page of the census.
Herman’s second wife died in 1823. He married a third time on July 20, 1826, to Mary Delia Buel, at her church in Troy. She was the daughter of attorney David Buel and Rachel McNeil of Troy. Mary Delia was born in Litchfield, Conn., the seventh child of her parents. They had moved to the new city of Troy in 1798. Interestingly, one of Mary’s sisters was the second wife of Herman’s mentor, John Bird. Again, Herman would have known his father-in-law before the marriage through the bar association.
In the 1830 census, Herman had a family of 1 male under 5, 1 20-29, 1 30-39; 2 females under 5, 2 from 5-9, 1 from 15-19, 3 from 20-29, and 1 from 30-39. He was 51, his wife in her 30’s. Herman and Mary had four children of their own, two boys and two girls: Sarah Bird, Charlotte, David, born 1833, and Herman. I don’t know where they were baptized. Herman and Mary’s daughters also attended the Troy Seminary: Sarah Bird from 1841-1844 and Charlotte Buel from 1846-1848. Sarah continued there as an assistant after graduation and until her marriage. Herman had a total of fourteen children. Eleven survived childhood, just three of them boys: Abraham, the eldest child, born in 1802, and David Buel, and Herman, children of his third wife. David and Herman had uncles younger than they were, children of Abraham.
Herman continued to live in a houseful of young people. In the 1840 census, he had a family of 2 males from 5-9, 1male 15-19, 1male 20-29, and 1 female under 5, 1 female 10-14, 1 female 15-19, and 1 female 30-39. By 1850, this activity was winding down. The 1850 census lists “Harman” a farmer aged 73, with an estate of $6,000, his wife Mary B., age 53, daughter Charlotte, age 18, and two servants, Ann Hopkins, age 30, who was Irish, and Eve Wolf, age 50. The other children were all off on their own.
So far, I have given a purely factual recitation of the career of Herman Knickerbacker. It is wonderful to know so much about a 19th century figure, but even more amazingly, we can also fill out the personality of this man. Washington Irving was one of the major American authors of the 19th century. He found inspiration in Herman Knickerbacker. In his Life and Letters, Irving gave a good summary of Herman’s life. He described him as “living hospitably, and filling various stations: a judge, a farmer, a miller, a manufacturer, a politician.” Irving is said to have introduced Knickerbacker (in Washington as a U.S. Congressman in 1807-1809) to President Madison facetiously as “my cousin Diedrich Knickerbocker, the great historian of New York.” Irving visited him several times at his home at Schaghticoke Hill. All of this clearly shows that Herman was Irving’s inspiration for the character of Diedrich Knickerbocker, the fictional author of Irving’s satirical “History of New York,” and that Herman was known not just for his accomplishments, but also for his hospitality. His obituary in an Albany newspaper stated, he is “remembered rather as a companionable man than as a scholar or statesman.” The Troy “Times” obituary added that he was “noted for his keen wit, his original humor, which made him a favorite in social circles even in his old age.”
An 1833 newspaper article describes a tour by the paper’s correspondent around the Saratoga area. He reports, “I have recently returned from a very pleasant visit to Schaghticoke, where I had the happiness of dining with the Prince of that Palatinate, Gen. H. Knickerbacker, in his own hospitable castle. He is a merry sovereign….The Prince has long been celebrated for his hospitality, his humor, and his amusing eccentricities.” Scribner’s Dictionary of American Biography reports that at his estate in Schaghticoke, “he lived so perfectly the part of the ‘lord of the manor,’ dispensed hospitality with so lavish a hand, and showed himself as liberal in his charities that he became widely known as the ‘Prince of Schaghticoke.’”
Herman’s official Congressional Biography also notes his hospitality and generosity. However, none of the sources mention that Herman was involved in a large number of business and legal affairs in his community. As I noted earlier, basically every will or deed I have looked at from about 1810 to 1830 includes Herman in some way. He was the lawyer, the administrator of the estate, the lender of money, the partner of others in some legal wheeling and dealing. Knickerbacker’s influence may also be seen in the fact that his neighbors Hannah and Peter Grant named a son born in 1810 Herman Knickerbacker Grant.
I found several 19th century newspaper articles where people had written to ask about the source of the term “Knickerbocker” to refer to a New Yorker. All traced it to Herman Knickerbacker via Washington Irving, though none cited any sources for their information. An 1876 article said that Herman was a practical joker. Once when entertaining the mayor and council of Troy, he pretended he had forgotten the date, and was overheard asking the cook how they could make one chicken stretch to such a huge number of guests, just before “the dining room doors opened on a most sumptuous repast.” This story came from an article written by General Ebgert L. Viele for “Harper’s Magazine” in the same year, titled “The Knickerbockers of New York Two Centuries Ago.” Viele’s mother was a Knickerbacker. An 1890 article stated that Herman was “a man of wit as well as fortune, and extremely fond of practical jokes.”
Herman died January 30, 1855 in Williamsburgh, New York City, at the home of his daughter Sarah Bird Knickerbacker and her husband Reverend Samuel Haskins. His wife Mary had died at Sarah’s home just a few weeks earlier, on December 6, 1854. His obituary notes that he suffered paralysis soon after his wife’s death and “gradually failed” up to the date of his death. Sarah herself died later that same year in Saratoga, where she had gone for her health. While Mary was buried in OakwoodCemetery, where there was already a Buel family plot, Herman was interred in the KnickerbackerCemetery, across the street from the Mansion, next to his first two wives. There has been some speculation that a rift between the couple may have been responsible for this separation, but given that the couple was cared for in the same child’s home until death, I feel this is unlikely. Perhaps finances were more the reason, or perhaps Mary’s relatives thought she should be with her own family, rather than in a row with Herman’s first two wives.
A lengthy obituary for Herman appeared in the Troy “Times” on February 2, 1855. There were few obituaries in the newspaper in that era, so this was a sign of Herman’s importance. And the obituary could not have been more laudatory. The Rensselaer County Bar Association held a special meeting to mourn Knickerbacker. Long-time law partner Job Pierson chaired the meeting and began by saying that for the first twenty years of their partnership, he and Herman had been political opponents, “yet never during that time did we ever entertain personally an unkind feeling the one to the other. During all his life time never had, indeed could not have had a personal enemy. His kindness was his only fault.” Others went on to note he was “an honorable and honest man in all the walks of life.” General Viele said “a more benevolent and philanthropic could scarce ever beamed upon oppressed and struggling humanity.” The paper added that “the quaint stories and laughable anecdotes of which the Judge is the hero are almost innumerable.” The bar association voted to wear mourning badges in his honor for thirty days.
Ironically for a lawyer and judge, Herman died without a will. But there is a probate file connected with sorting out his estate. The file notes that Herman died with eleven grown children and no widow. David and Herman, sons by Herman’s third wife, were administrators of the estate, along with Clarence Buel, who may have been a brother-in-law, and M.C. VanBuskirk.
It does seem that Herman Knickerbacker was a generous man, perhaps too generous. Former law partner Job Pierson stated in his funeral speech that “it was his misfortune through life to risk his credit for his friends until at length …at the close of life he was robbed of that affluence which ….had enabled him to entertain his friends with princely magnificence.” The Surrogate placed notices in the local papers calling any creditors to come forward. Herman’s estate was inventoried and its contents had to be sold at a public auction and a private sale in February 1855, so that expenses of the estate could be paid. The public sale brought $620. The real estate brought $2,350. Funeral expenses were about $110, including $40 for a modest tombstone, paid to grandson John Hale Knickerbocker; $27.50 for a mahogany coffin; and $7 to Reverend Roberts, who officiated at the funeral. Son David received $507 to cover his expenses, and the attorney got $90. Old law partner Job Pierson received about $110, from an old dispute, and physician Ezekiel Baker, $55.
A closer examination of the inventory shows a library of about 150 volumes, including biographies of famous people, such as Jefferson and Washington, 17 volumes of Shakespeare, and an 8-volume history of England. The most valuable piece of furniture was a marble mantle clock valued at $10. Possible proof of the entertaining Knickerbacker did is seen in the total of 83 chairs of different types in the inventory! How many chairs do you have in your house?
I would love to see the “old Dutch Clock” listed, worth $2, or the several “pictures” and “paintings,” or the mahogany cradle worth $3. Was that clock a family heirloom? There was also a teapot, sugar, and creamer valued at $20, the largest single sum on the list, and a wide variety of other household belongings. There was little in the way of farm implements, and no farm products (except for a ton of hay) or animals. Evidently that had been sold or given away earlier. There were several vehicles: a lumber wagon, two cutters (sleighs), and one “covered carriage” valued at $15. All in all, this seems a paltry estate for such a prominent man. It also seems sad that there wasn’t a will, where there could have been personal bequests to his many children. Perhaps he took care of that in life, giving mementos and financing to his children as they grew up and moved away.
Let me add a note on a couple of Herman’s sons. Abraham, born in 1802, is listed in the 1850 census as a farmer with an estate of $15,000. He and his (second) wife Mary had two sons living at home. John Hale, age 21, was listed as a student, and son Henry, 17, as a farmer. Mother-in-law Mary Hale lived in the home, along with one Irish farm hand, one black laborer, and two Irish serving girls. Jon Stevens of Easton, the absolute expert on Knickerbockers, says that Abraham had also been involved with his father in manufacturing.
Herman’s son David Buel, born in 1833 and older than nephew John Hale, attended TrinityCollege in Hartford, Connecticut, then the General Theological Seminary in New York City. Perhaps he was at school when his father died in 1855. The next year, David went to the new town of Minneapolis, Minnesota, population 300, as a missionary. He remained there for 27 years, and then became the 3rd Protestant Episcopal Bishop of Indiana. He died in 1894.
Looking back, though Herman lived a full life, and was a credit to his community, his much greater legacy is as the inspiration for Washington Irving’s Diedrich Knickerbocker, and as the source for the use of “Knickerbocker” as a symbol of a New Yorker.
Bibliography for the whole series:
“Annals of Albany, 1850-1856” p. 316.
Bielinski, Stefan, biography of John V. Henry and John Wendell online
Congressional Biography, online
Scribner’s Dictionary of American Biography, online
“Troy Post” articles: April 13, 20, 1813; Apr 18, 1815
“Goshen Patriot”, Apr 6, 1819
“Geneva Gazette”, Feb 28, 1816
“Military Minutes of the Council of Appointment of NYS” 1801
“Albany Evening Journal” Apr 30, 1833
“NY Sun”, Feb 9, 1908
“St. Lawrence Plain Dealer”, Nov 30, 1876
“Emma Willard and her Pupils”, ed. By Mrs. Fairbanks, 1898.
Records of the Schaghticoke Dutch Reformed and PresbyterianChurches
Website of the Knickerbocker Historical Society
Various census records for Schaghticoke
Probate records in Rensselaer County Historical Society
“Troy Times” Feb 2, 1855
Cemetery records, town of Schaghticoke
Deeds with Herman Knickerbocker as grantor/grantee: Rensselaer County Courthouse annex