the results of research about the history of the town of Schaghticoke
October 20, 2014Posted by on
I have been working on the contents of what follows for several months. It has been hard to make the decision to publish, as I feel I will find more information. But I could work on it forever! I know I have shared information before on the industrial revolution in Schaghticoke, beginning about 1800, but I don’t feel I have emphasized it enough- and, as you will see, I have a lot more to say. To prepare for this I visited two great museums: the National Park at Lowell, Massachusetts,(www.nps.gov/lowe/) and Hanford Mills Museum at East Meredith, NY (www.hanfordmills.org). I wanted to really understand the operation of mills, from water to finished products, and both places let the visitor see that in action. I recommend both places to you. Hanford Mills is near Oneonta, very accessible to us. Lowell is filled with textile mills and the canals and machinery needed to operate them. Hanford Mills has a grist and saw mill plus several other wood working machines which operate off the same water wheel, or with a steam boiler.
In the past I have written about the industrial revolution in the town of Schaghticoke. Now I think it’s hard for us to imagine the gorge of the Hoosic River at the village of Schaghticoke filled with mills of various kinds, the village populated with mill workers, who lived, worked, and shopped in their village. I would like to return to that topic, to try to describe what the mills were like, and imagine the work of the citizens of the village. The Rensselaer County Historical Society in Troy owns boxes and boxes of the papers of Richard Hart, whose home on Second Street the society occupies. Richard was a busy entrepreneur in the early 19th century, and one of his major projects was to purchase and operate the mills at Schaghticoke Point, now the village of Schaghticoke. His local partner was Amos Briggs, an immigrant to Schaghticoke from Rhode Island. In the future I plan to write much more about Amos, but for now I’ll stick to the mills. The Hart Papers cover a wide range of activities at the mills. I will draw on inventories made of several mills as Hart was planning to purchase them, leases of various mills, record books covering extensive repairs to a mill in 1824, and a census of area mills Hart made in 1831, as well as a great children’s book by David Macaulay called “Mill,” a book on water power by Louis C. Hunter, and material from the National Park at the textile mills in Lowell, Massachusetts. While there were other kinds of mills at Schaghticoke Point- including a grist and saw mill at least- this article will focus on the new textile mills.
For centuries, yarn and cloth were made by hand, no matter the natural fiber: flax- linen, cotton, or wool. The fiber needed to be harvested, whether from plant or animal, cleaned and processed, spun into yarn, woven into cloth, then the cloth needed to be “finished” to be durable. There was often also a step to dye the yarn after the spinning or weaving as well. The wool fulling process involved beating and cleaning the cloth in water to make it denser, “teasing” it, originally with the seed pods of the teasel plant to raise the pile, and trimming off loose threads. The fulling was the first part of the process to be mechanized, and was done by water-powered mills as early as the middle ages. A fulling mill was one of the first at Schaghticoke, probably shortly after the first bridge was put across the river c. 1792.
The next steps of the cloth making process to be mechanized were the spinning and carding. Again, the power was provided by water. Carding, the combing of fibers to straighten them out, could be done more easily in bulk than spinning., and was mechanized by the mid-1700’s in England. Samuel Slater built the first spinning mill in the United States in Pawtucket, Rhode Island in 1793. This technology spread like wildfire through the Northeast, with inventors vying to get patents on new improvements. The goal was to be able to spin more fiber at once- have more and more spindles on one machine- to make the process faster. There were two types of spinning machines in use: The spinning mule used a two part process to spin fiber into thread or yarn: first the roving (the unspun fiber in loose ropes from the carding machine) was spun, then wound up on a pool. The throstle did the same process in one action- drawing out the roving, twisting it and winding it on a spool. A throstle is a song bird. The bird-like singing or humming of the machine at work gave it its name. The mills at Schaghticoke had both kinds of spinning devices, as well as carding machines.
The chance for profit in the new mechanization of the textile business led budding entrepreneurs to fan out from the East Coast, seeking out good sites for water power as the 19th century began. The over -100 foot drop in the Hoosic River at Schaghticoke was a magnet for these men. One of the earliest to build a textile mill here was Benjamin Joy, from Boston. Benjamin, born in 1757, was a merchant with many business interests and the first U.S. consul to Calcutta, nominated by President George Washington in 1794. While he probably visited Schaghticoke, his brother Charles was Benjamin’s agent, who ran the mills. Charles was in Schaghticoke by 1795, when he married Elizabeth Chase, who may have been the daughter of Daniel Chase, builder of the first bridge across the Hoosic in 1792. The couple lived here until about 1820. Charles was one of the founders of the Presbyterian Church in 1803, and served as a trustee until 1820. Interestingly, in the 1820 census, Charles was not listed as employed in manufacturing, but rather as a farmer. One Joy Mill processed flax, another cotton, and the Rensselaer Cotton and Woolen Mill, with local owners, later the Farmers’ Manufacturing Company, dealt with both cotton and wool, as the name implies, from about the same time. I found an ad in the ‘Troy Post” for 1819 for “patent seine twine of a perfect lay…with all other kinds of twine..” at Samuel Conant & Company in Troy. The twine was made at the linen factory of Charles Joy at Schaghticoke Point, and “known to be of superior quality.”
The falls of the Hoosic attracted entrepreneurs like the Joys. The mills they built attracted workers and engineers, first to build the mills, then to design and use the machinery inside them. I have written before of Oliver Barrett, born in Hudson Falls in 1783, who filed a patent from Schaghticoke in 1811 for a machine for making cotton roving. Carding machines produced loose tubes of fiber called roving, which would then be spun, so Oliver was working on the carding process. To succeed, factories needed to use the latest equipment, making the textile process as efficient as possible. So from the earliest years of the Industrial Revolution, Schaghticoke was on the cutting edge.
The last part of the textile process to be mechanized was the weaving. For some years, the other parts would be done in the mill, with the yarn sent out to be woven in area homes, and the fabric returned to the mill for mechanical finishing such as fulling. Or if the whole process was done in the mill, the weaving would be on hand operated mills. A genealogy of the local Banker family reports on a man named James Verity, born on Long Island in 1786. He learned to weave in the traditional way, through apprenticeship with a Quaker weaver in Nine Partners, near Poughkeepsie, from age fourteen to 21. At that point, 1807, he came to Schaghticoke Point, where he wove in the cotton mill. After his 1812 marriage to Eunice Banker, he continued to weave, but at his home, on a farm south of Melrose.
The first power loom in the U.S. was built at Lowell, Massachusetts in 1813. Looms would be added to the mills as soon as possible, as this would vastly speed up the manufacture of cloth. An 1831 census of area mills reported that the Joy Linen Mill had “28 duck looms propelled by hand.” So in that case, though the weaving was still not mechanized, the weavers were centralized in the mill. This would certainly give the mill owner greater control of the finished fabric and of the worker. I think that various combinations of hand and power looms were used through the 1830’s.
Building a mill involved buying both land and water rights. In general, riparian (having to do with rivers) law gives landowners ownership of an adjacent stream or river if it is not navigable. If it is navigable, the river is public property. The Hoosic certainly was not navigable at Schaghticoke!
The 100 foot water fall at Schaghticoke had lots of potential, but no mill and water wheel combination could accommodate more than about a 20 foot fall, so it needed to be harnessed. We see how it is controlled by the dam to this day, though now the water is used to power a hydroelectric facility. At a time when construction was done by hand and horse, without concrete and steel, dams needed to be constructed, along with a raceway or flume, which delivered water to the water wheel and took it away, and probably a mill pond, for storage of water: all aiming to maintain a constant flow to the mill. The flume could be carved in a stone stream bed, like that of the Hoosic at Schaghticoke, built of stones, or even elevated and built of wood. The type of water wheel would have to be chosen, designed and built. There were a number of types: flutter, undershot, overshot, breast, and tub. All would have to have a container to operate in, either a pit excavated in the riverbank or a tub made of wood.
With a number of mills being built on the Hoosic at Schaghticoke, there was intense and careful negotiation over the design and placement of the dams, wheels, and flumes. The amount of water power was limited, and all would want and need their share. Riparian law mandated that the owner of the mill would have to return the same amount of water to the river as he took out to power his mill. Deeds included very specific provisions about rights-of-way, repair of dams, and amount of water ensured to each owner or tenant. Without water, the mill couldn’t operate.
I am sure you are thinking, “Wait, what about spring floods, summer droughts, and winter freezing?” Waterpower was variable and unreliable. Some of this could be controlled by the construction of mill ponds, where water could be contained, stockpiled, so to speak, and released in a controlled manner. But there would be times when the water was totally frozen, and times when it was just too high to be controlled. Dams and flumes were easily damaged and needed frequent repair. A careless owner could create problems for not only himself, but his neighbors, including nearby farmers whose land could be flooded.
Textile mill buildings would have to be built to accommodate all of the machinery. This resulted in long and narrow buildings of multiple stories. Various belts and gears would transfer the water power from the water wheel to the various machines. The power train was long and narrow. The mills needed to have many windows, allowing use of as much natural light as possible to illuminate the work spaces. Mills could be and were heated by wood stoves and lit by oil lamps, but cloth fibers are very flammable, and the owners did all they could to minimize the risk of fire.
By 1825 or so, the cloth making process ended up with these steps, with some variation depending on the kind of fiber:
1. The fiber needed to be cleaned. For wool, this would mean washing, for flax “retting” or soaking in water, and removal of the outer husk of the plant. Both wool and flax were produced locally. Cotton, of course, had to be imported from the South. It arrived in huge bales, weighing up to 500 pounds. The bales needed to be picked apart. This could be done manually, or by a picker machine. Often this process was done in a separate building as the cotton would be at its most flammable as wispy fibers.
2. The fibers were straightened through carding, by a machine, which would produce a light, fluffy, thin mat. This would go through a drawing frame to be given a slight twist, then to a speeder, which would turn it into roving. Roving is an unspun, fragile narrow rope.
3. The roving was spun on either a mule or throstle of a number of spinners, ending up on a spool. Some of the yarn was spun to be the warp, some the weft on a loom. The yarn might now have to be dressed with a starch before weaving.
4. Now the yarn would be woven into all kinds of cloth. In Schaghticoke, the flax was also twisted into ropes, from shoe laces on up. Yarn could also be dyed.
5. Finally, the cloth would be “finished.” This depended on the content. Wool would be fulled, and stretched on tenters (long wooden frames and the source of keeping someone on “tenterhooks”); cotton could be “sized,” or glazed. Fabric could also be dyed.
The mills employed men, women, and children. According to the website of the National Park at Lowell, Massachusetts, one man could run a picker, and one could run ten carding machines. One woman could run a dressing frame, one every two speeders, one a drawing frame, one per spinner, and one weaver for two looms. Children were often employed as doffers, who would remove the full spindles, ducking under and around the machines as they operated. There would be one manager for about thirty employees, and one machinist per fifty machines, to keep them in working order. The mills would be noisy, the air filled with fiber. Before the advent of ear plugs, longtime workers would certainly suffer from deafness. Some of the processing involved noxious chemicals like bleach and oil of vitriol (sulfuric acid). In winter, the rooms would be cold, despite the use of stoves, and certainly smoky and smelly from the burning wood, and the oil lamps in use in the short winter days. Clothing and body parts could easily get caught in any of the machines.
During the 19th century, many mill workers lived in housing provided by their employers and shopped at least in part at stores they ran. This could be a mutually beneficial arrangement, as workers knew they would have a decent place to live and employers knew their workers could get to work easily and had some control over them when they were not at work. The owners didn’t want workers to come to work drunk, for example. New villages grew up around the mills, as men and women left farms to work at what they hoped would be better jobs. For women this was a first opportunity at employment outside the home. Children as young as six or seven worked at least part-time in the mill, but if the mills were running, the work day could be 12-16 hours for all, six days a week. Some owners did not employ young children, and others made sure they went to school as well as work. As the mills were often not operating in the winter, there would be time for school then.
Let’s turn to the real mills at Schaghticoke… Richard Hart of Troy did a census of mostly cotton mills in the Rensselaer/Washington County area in 1831. I think he was assessing possible competitors as he and Amos Briggs bought up all the mills in the gorge of the Hoosic River at Schaghticoke. Whatever the purpose, it gives us a rare and early snapshot of the industry at the time. The mill operators filled out the census forms themselves. There were two linen mills in the survey, both of them at Schaghticoke. The Joy Mill, built in 1809, produced 2500 bolts of sail duck, 15,000 pounds of shoe thread, and 40,000 yards of bagging each year. Sail duck would be used for the sails on ships, bagging would be made into linen bags, which were used for storing many, many commodities in pre-plastic days. To make this product, the mill used 50 cords of wood, 200 gallons of oil, 3000 pounds of potash for bleaching, 500 pounds of oil of vitriol (sulfuric acid), and 1500 pounds of “foreign bleaching salts.” Imagine the toxic pollution of the river from the latter items. The mill had 175 people living on the premises. This number would include workers and their families, as workers were housed on the property of the mill.
The second flax mill, Tibbits Briggs & Company, used 10,000 pounds of flax and 65,000 pounds of flax and hemp tow (tow is coarser outer part of flax, used to make cording and rope) per year, and made 65,000 yards of bagging, 25,000 pounds of shoe thread, and 10,000 yards of carpet warp per year. The warp would be set on a loom to weave carpets. It had fifty employees. Tibbits was the brother of Hart’s partner, Amos Briggs.
There were four cotton mills in Schaghticoke. The Joy Cotton Mill, built in 1812, had 750 spindles and throstles and 18 looms, and made 149,700 yards of cotton shirting each year. It used 40,500 pounds of cotton, 500 pounds of starch, 25 cords of wood, and 100 gallons of oil each year. Of course the cotton was all imported from the South. The mill employed six men, who made $4.50 per week, and 22 women, who made $1.60. Two or three of the employees were under 12. Sixty people lived on the premises, however.
The Ephraim Congdon Mill, built in 1820, had 432 throstles and 20 shirting looms, which used 40,000 pounds of cotton per year and made 125,000 yards of #18 yarn per year. It must have made shirting too, but that was not reported. The factory used 3000 pounds of flour for sizing the fabric each year. It employed eight men and twenty women, though 40 persons lived on the premises. An article in the “Troy Budget” in February 1834 reported the mill would be auctioned- presumably because it was bankrupt- the next month. The Star Manufacturing Company, managed by Amos Briggs, was built in 1818. It had 720 spindles and 16 looms. It used 32,000 pounds of cotton per year and made 10,000 yards of cloth, with a work force of ten males and 32 females. Sixty-five people lived on the premises. When modern residents speak of “the Star Hole” in the Hoosic River, they are referring to this mill, though I’m sure not one person knows any of its history.
The Farmers Manufacturing Company was leased by Richard Hart and Amos Briggs in 1821, and purchased by them the following year. They bought the water rights and the factory for $6,000. The brick factory had lots of cotton machinery: one picker, to the east of the partition on the first floor, six carding machines, one threader, one drawing frame, 32 power looms to the west of the partition, and two dressing machines. They also had use of 32 spinning frames, 4 mule frames, 4 stretcher frames, 8 drawing frames, 8 roping frames, and 12 winding heads, some of which was outdated machinery. They were located on the 3rd and 4th floors. There was machinery to operate a woolen mill as well, but they didn’t plan to use that. The property also included a brick store and four large and two small houses, plus room for gardens for the workers. Under the lease agreement, Amos would manage the day-to-day operations of the mill, and regulate the water, making sure to keep the grist mill well-supplied; Richard would purchase the cotton. He worked with a cotton broker in New York City, rather than buying the cotton directly from plantations in the South.
This established the relationship that would exist between Briggs and Hart for the next 20 years. In 1825 Amos Briggs, the hands-on manager of the mill, modernized and rebuilt the cotton mill of the Farmers Company. Richard Hart, the money man, bought a new speeder and drawing frame, and there was lots of repair of the dam and flume, with new gates installed, plus removal of the old and construction of a new tub wheel. Some of this involved digging in the rock of the river bed. The factory itself was replastered, a new brick chimney built, a bell added, the garret (attic) windows rebuilt and painted. Over a couple of months, seventy different men were employed for from a couple of days to several weeks in the renovations. Part of their wages was a tot of rum or whiskey each day. The bell would mark the beginning and end of the work day.
By the time of the 1831 census, the Farmers Factory was much bigger than its rivals. It had 2,976 spindles, mules and throstles, with 981 looms. It made 750,000 yards of cloth per year from 172,818 pounds of cotton. It used 5000 pounds of starch, 35 barrels of flour, 85 cords of wood, 1000 bushels of coal and 650 gallons of oil per year. The factory employed twenty men at $7 per week, 35 boys at $1.50 per week, fifty women at $2.50 per week, 55 girls at $1.37 per week, and twenty children at 87.5 cents per week. The children got to go to school for three months per year. I don’t know the definition of “boy” and “girl” versus “children”. As late as 1870 children as young as six worked in the mills. Five hundred people lived in mill housing on the premises.
The 1831 census included another cotton mill. Giles Slocum & Company had just been built in 1831. It had 1000 spindles, mules, and throstles and forty looms. It made 250,000 yards of cotton per year and employed fourteen males and forty females, none under twelve years of age. I assumed it was in the gorge of the Hoosic as well, but finally discovered it was on the Schaghticoke side of the Hoosic at Valley Falls. The 1856 and 1858 Rensselaer County maps show it on the north side of the river, just upstream from the bridge.
This all adds up to about 400 men, women and children working in the mills, with over 800 people living in worker housing of these mills in the area of the village of Schaghticoke Point in 1830, where there had been no village twenty years earlier. (The population of the village was 600 in 2010, by the way.) This certainly changes the way I think of the village as I drive through it today, when there’s barely a place to work, and certainly no factory at all. Was this mill census accurate?
Let’s look at the 1820, 1830 and 1840 federal censuses. Unfortunately the 1830 census lists only the names of heads of households, plus numbers of males and females of various ages in each family, plus separate columns for free blacks of various ages and one column for aliens, with no detail about occupations at all. There were 3024 people in the whole town of Schaghticoke, living in 454 families. The village is not separated out, but there are just a few of the 34 pages of the census which include almost all of the 151 aliens in town, about 2% of the population. I think we may assume that the aliens mostly lived in the village, where they worked in the mills. There were 18 families composed totally of non-native people, where there had been only one in 1820. This means that most of the mill workers were natives of the U.S. We don’t know how many had come to Schaghticoke from other states, drawn by the mills, though a number certainly had. The ones I have examined came from New England. But there had been an influx of aliens too, mostly from Great Britain and Ireland.
But is it reasonable to think that of a townwide population of about 3000, about 400 people worked in the mills and 800 lived in mill housing? That’s 13% of the population as workers and 27% in the housing. In the 1820 census 600 of the 2500 residents had been farmers, or about ¼, 153 had been in manufacturing, or 16%. In both cases, this includes just the actual farmers or manufacturers, not their families. We know that the mills were built between 1820 and 1830, so it’s reasonable to think that the number of mill workers would have grown a lot. The overall population increase of the whole town from 1820 to 1830 was 8%, from 2522 to 3024 people. The 1840 census does indicate that over 425 people in town worked in manufacturing and trades. It does include women and children. So while the mill census may be somewhat exaggerated, it is not impossible.
Even if the mill census does inflate the numbers somewhat, the fact was that there was a new village at Schaghticoke, which had grown up in about twenty years. The residents would need the necessities of life available close by, with transportation so limited. Unlike the farmers, they weren’t growing most of their own food. Along with the rapid growth of mills, there must have been a real boom in the construction industry, plus need for stores of all kinds, medical care, schools, transportation, and churches. There must have been a tremendous air of excitement in the town.
Turning to another part of the 1831 census, where did the raw material for the mills come from? It’s hard for me to imagine the logistics of importing 300,000 pounds of cotton to Schaghticoke in a year, in the era before railroads. Cotton was packed into bales that weighed 500 pounds and measured about 56 x 48 x 30”. Presumably they came up the Hudson River by boat, probably to Troy, then by horse and wagon to town.
Flour was also needed for sizing the cotton. I know that there was a grist mill along with the cotton mills on the Hoosic, plus another grist mill on the Tomhannock Creek at Schaghticoke Hill. Did local farmers produce enough wheat to be ground into the flour needed for these mills to finish the cotton, plus the flour needed for domestic consumption? I don’t know.
The two linen mills required raw flax. I know that some flax was grown locally, especially in Pittstown. Was it enough for the linen mills? I know that some flax was imported from Ireland in the 1840’s, along with what was grown locally, but I don’t know about 1830. And of course the woolen mill needed raw wool. Farmers did raise sheep locally, as they do now, but I don’t know if they were able to provide all the wool needed for local mills.
By about 1840 Amos Briggs of Schaghticoke and Richard Hart of Troy owned all of the mills in the gorge of the Hoosic River, an early monopoly. It was quite a conglomerate- with cotton, linen, and woolen mills, plus a grist mill, a farm ( located on Verbeck Avenue, where West Wind Farm is today), a mill store, and mill housing, plus a number of other lots in the village, which were rented for stores and housing. In the future I will look at these two men in more detail. It’s clear there is much more to learn about these mills and the village.
Hart Papers and probate files at the Rensselaer County Historical Society in Troy
Sylvester’s “History of Rensselaer County”, 1880
U.S. and NYS Census for Schaghticoke: 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1855, 1860
Spafford’s “Gazetteer of NYS”, 1813 and 1824
MacCauley, David, “Mill”, 1983.
Trips to National Park at Lowell, Mass., and Hanford Mills Museum, East Meredith, NY
http://www.fultonhistory.com- newspaper articles
August 26, 2014Posted by on
Exactly 200 years ago, New York State was being invaded by a large British Army via Lake Champlain. I was reminded of this because recently I heard an NPR radio broadcast recreating the invasion of Washington, D.C. two hundred years ago in August. The British Army, fresh from beating Napoleon at Waterloo, marched into Washington and burned the White House and Capitol buildings.
Meanwhile, the British Army and Navy were at Lake Champlain, attempting the same sort of invasion of New York that had failed when Burgoyne tried it in 1777. General George Prevost, governor-general of Canada, commanded a veteran army which vastly out-numbered the Americans, especially as the bulk of the American army was sent to defend Sacket’s Harbor on Lake Ontario, in the mistaken belief that it was the British target. Prevost decided to wait for the British Navy to defeat the Americans before joining battle, but the American Navy under Commander Thomas MacDonough, prevailed in a battle in Plattsburgh Bay on September 11, 1814. The American Army, under General Alexander Macomb, consisted mostly of untrained militia, with one section of regulars, under Major John E. Wool, of Schaghticoke and Troy. After an indecisive engagement near the Saranac River, west of Plattsburgh, the British Army retreated. Prevost felt he couldn’t prevail in the end without naval support. The threat of invasion was over. The peace treaty ending the war was signed at Ghent, Belgium in December.
Where were the Schaghticoke militia units in all of this? The 8th Brigade, under General Gilbert Eddy, with Michael Vandercook of Pittstown as brigade Major, was called out on September 8. The Schaghticoke regiment of the brigade was commanded by Colonel William Knickerbacker. According to a 1936 article in the Albany “Evening News”, the call for the draft went out; the men assembled at Henry Vandercook’s Inn and put slips of paper with their names in a hat. Every fourth slip of paper drawn was opened, and the man whose name appeared drafted for service. I do not know how accurate this account is, as much of the rest of the story was not, but in any case, the 2200 men began to march north on September 13, first goal Granville. Three solid days of rain ensued, with the march halted at Speigletown. The newspaper account stated they reached Granville two weeks later. My notes and the pension application of several men who served state that they reached Granville on September 18. Whatever the case, the battle had occurred on September 11. As soon as that word reached the Brigade at Granville, it was disbanded and the men sent home.
The anniversary of the battle of Plattsburgh is celebrated every year, but this year will be special as it is the Bicentennial. I suggest you consult this website, and make a trip up the Northway to at least view the reenactment on land and lake. http://www.champlain1812.com/documents/2014finalschedule_8_2014.pdf There is also a small museum about the battle and a wonderful monument to Commander MacDonough near where the Saranac River enters the Lake Champlain.
August 6, 2014Posted by on
I guess I should say rather, the mystery of his tombstone. When excavations were done earlier in the summer for the water line construction south of the new Route 40 bridge over the Hoosic River, the front sidewalk of the DiFranzo’s, the old Rectory, was disturbed, and lo and behold, one of the big sections was a tombstone. (Abel S. Read, 1798-1864) Fortunately one of the discoverers was Frank Crandall, an aware local resident, who made sure the stone was saved, only slightly damaged. Village Historian Dick Lohnes was called in and he called me.
After some research, I have discovered that Abel Spalding Reed was born on February 20, 1798 in Brooklyn, Connecticut, the son of the amazingly named Barzillai and Elizabeth Read. They were married April 7, 1797 and had two more children before Elizabeth died in 1802, aged 29. Abel’s first appearance in Schaghticoke records is in May 1830, when he married Catherine (Cathaline, Caroline) Waldron in the Dutch Reformed Church. He was 32 years old, listed as a teacher. She was 26, the daughter of farmer Peter C. Waldron. Peter Waldron and his wife Cate or Catherine had several children baptized in the early 1800’s in the church, but Catherine’s baptism is not listed. Waldron was an old family in town. It’s hard to tell when Abel arrived in Schaghticoke. The 1855 census stated he had been in town for forty years, which would put his arrival in 1815, as a 17-year-old. That seems a bit early to have enough education to be a teacher, but is possible. He is in neither the 1820 or 1830 census, but if he roomed with a family, as was often the case with a school teacher, he would not have been listed by name, just as a resident in a family. In the 1830 census, Peter C. Waldron does have one female aged 20-30 in his family, who could be Catherine.
Sylvester’s History of Rensselaer County records that Abel was a school inspector sometime in the period from 1813-1844. I am sure he stayed in town, but the next recorded mention of Abel is in the 1850 census, when he was still listed as a school teacher, aged 50. I have not seen this before- most male teachers worked for just a couple of years as young men, then went on to their “real” careers, but this would mean he had been a teacher for at least twenty years. He and Catherine, 45, plus their children William, 14, and Mahilla (Mehitabel), 6, lived with her father, Peter C. Waldron, aged 73.
By the 1855 census, they were living on their own and Abel’s occupation was farmer. (Peter, born in 1777, lived until 1866, and is buried in Elmwood Cemetery.) Abel, with an estate of $500, was aged 57. Now son Peter, aged 22, was living with the family, along with William, 20, and Mehitabel, 11. On the 1856 map of town, their farm was on the south side of Pinewoods Road, just west of where Sliter Road joins it. By 1860, Abel had real estate worth $3400 and a personal estate of $800. The three children still lived with their parents, with Peter and William both listed as farmers. Next door on the census was the family of a Zachariah Read, age 24, married to Ann, with a son Charles, age 11/12. Could this be another son of Abel and his wife? It’s certainly possible. In the 19th century, men aspired to be farmers, so this could represent teacher Abel finally reaching his goal.
Abel died on March 20, 1864. We don’t know where he was buried. The site where his stone was found would certainly point to interment in the Catholic Cemetery, which in 1864 was next to the church, and later moved to the current location. This seems unlikely as he was married in the Dutch Reformed Church, therefore probably not a Catholic, and the stone was trimmed at the top edge for use as a paving stone in the walk.
The 1865 census continued to list Catherine, his widow, now aged 61, with an estate of $900. She had had five children. Peter, William, and Mehitable still lived with her. By the 1870 census, Peter, now 38, was listed as the head of family, with an estate of $4115. Brother William lived with him, along with their mother, now 64, listed as “keeping house.” She had an estate of $400. Mehitabel married a Hasbrouck. Catherine died in 1877.
By the 1880 census, Mehitable was back home with her brothers, along with a daughter, Emma, aged 10. The three siblings were still living together as of the 1905 census, still on the farm on Pinewoods Road, which I know as the former farm of Mike Bunk. William died in 1911. Peter and Mehitable moved in with her daughter, Emma or Emily, and her husband Luther Moon, who lived in the same part of town. They were still there in the 1925 census, Peter aged 92 and Mehitable 81. Peter died in 1926 and Mehitable in 1928.
So the reason for the location of Abel’s tombstone will have to remain a mystery. It seems likely that it just became redundant, as the whole family has a plot in Mechanicville’s Hudsonview Cemetery. Somehow the slab became available for reuse after the new stone was erected. But it was important for me as it allowed me to find out about the earliest career teacher in town I have ever found. I still don’t know where Abel was educated, and why he ended up here- though many people from Connecticut moved to the booming industrial village of Schaghticoke in the early 19th century. Where did he teach? As far as I know there were just one-room elementary schools in town before the Civil War. Was there something more? Was Abel renowned as a prominent local teacher? Or not? Did any of Abel’s children follow in his footsteps? We know only that two sons became farmers, one daughter a farm wife. It’s fun to speculate.
July 25, 2014Posted by on
I was partly inspired to begin writing about our local men in the Civil War because Joe Sticklemyer published the letters that George Bryan wrote home to his friend Jennie Ackart describing his experiences as a soldier in the Rensselaer County Regiment, the 125th. George made me think about the impact of the experiences of being a soldier on the Schaghticoke boys who enlisted. Most of them had never been away from home, much less faced death across a battlefield. As I wrote of the battles of the 125th from September 1862 to June 1864, using George’s letters as a vivid source, I was well aware that the end was coming. I feel I got to know him so well that I genuinely mourn him. He enlisted as an aimless young man who found he had a true talent as a leader of men, and knew he couldn’t go back home and resume small town life. Of course we don’t know what could have been, as he was killed on June 16, 1864 at the start of the siege of Petersburg.
George A. Bryan enlisted in August 1862 as a private in Company K at age 23, listing his occupation as farmer. He had black eyes and hair and was 5’8” tall. He was the child of Benjamin and Ellen Bryan. George was born in 1840 in Stillwater and had two older brothers and a younger sister. Father Benjamin was a farmer, who owned his father’s farm in shares with two sisters. Through the years, Benjamin farmed on his own and with other members of his family, but his sisters seem to have been more successful than he. For example, in the 1870 census, his sister Lydia had real estate of $21,000. Benjamin and family lived in the house with her, but he listed no real estate and a personal estate of less than $2000. Their farm was on Verbeck Avenue.
Interestingly, though many children worked on their fathers’ farms, in the 1855 census, George was a teenage clerk living in the family of the Percys, who were merchants, and in the 1860 census he was a farm laborer on the farm of David Ackart. His older brothers John and Leonard had moved to Iowa and Kansas respectively. Perhaps the whole complicated family situation with their aunts in charge made the boys realize that they should strike out on their own, not counting on inheriting any land in Schaghticoke. Or perhaps the family needed the income that George got from working out, rather than on the family farm.
His superiors must have recognized George as a good soldier from the start. He was promoted to Sergeant by October of 1862, while the 125th was in internment camp in Chicago. Over that winter back in camp in Virginia, he wrote that he was studying to be an officer. He was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant on December 11, 1862, having to move to Company D, and to 1st Lieutenant in Company F on November 18, 1863. Though George suffered a couple of sicknesses during his service, went through horrible battles, and certainly lived in primitive conditions, he wrote to Jennie late in 1863, “I would not leave the army. I like it too well. I have done working on a farm. I will not deny that I love the society of my friends and the comforts of home, but I have got used to it now.”
In his last letter, in May 1864, George wrote to Jennie, “I cannot help but think how long it will be before I am either killed or wounded. But if either you know that it will not be running away from the enemy, and you know it is glorious to die in such a cause.” It seems amazing to me that after all he had seen and been through that Bryan maintained that attitude.
Before the Union and Confederate Armies settled in for a nine month siege at Petersburg, there were several Union attempts to take the city. On June 16, the 125th attacked and suffered many casualties. The regimental history describes how “the brave Lt. George A. Bryan” was shot, “A group of officers were standing in a ravine after the first rush of the charge was over,…when Lt. Bryan fell, (shot by a Confederate sniper). He lingered about a half hour in agony and then passed from earth.” The history records extensive biographies for most of the other officers of the regiment, but Bryan had worked his way through the ranks, and was not from Troy, so perhaps the author, Chaplain Ezra Simon, just did not know him as well as many others, and said nothing else about him.
George’s body was returned home for burial in Hudsonview Cemetery in Mechanicville. Thanks to Knickerbocker historian Jon Stevens, I learned that George’s mother, Ellen, had a twin sister who married a Cromwell. They were the daughters of Rebecca Knickerbocker Bradshaw. The sister also had a son, Edward A. Cromwell, who was killed in the Civil War, at the second battle of Manassas. George and his parents are buried in the Bradshaw family plot at Hudsonview. Jon said the cemetery began as a Bradshaw family cemetery.
George’s parents Benjamin and Ellen moved to Iowa by 1880, settling near another of their sons, John, a farmer. In 1882, in an application for a pension based on George’s service, Benjamin stated that before he enlisted, his son had given them all his pay, except for a small amount for his clothes, and that he had sent home all his military pay as well. Ellen had been bedridden for several years, and had needed expensive treatments at Saratoga. Now that Benjamin was retired, he needed the support his deceased son would have provided. Indeed, they had moved in with John by 1885. Benjamin died in 1887. As for Jennie, or Clarissa Jane Ackart, the recipient of George’s letters, she never married and was a school teacher for many years. In the 1900 census she lived alone. She died at age 69 in 1903 and is buried in Elmwood Cemetery.
Were Jennie and George really more than friends? Would they have become so after the war? What would George have become if he survived the war? George’s story was repeated so many times during the Civil War: young and promising men dying in battle. Of those who survived the war, I have found that some seemed to go on as before, while others were irrevocably changed for the better or worse by their experiences. I can’t help but see the similarities in both the Vietnam vets and our new Iraq and Afghanistan vets, though the Civil War group was much, much larger.
July 7, 2014Posted by on
The Sesquicentennial of the Civil War continues. The more I research, the more I become convinced that we need to remember and honor the men who served in that conflict, the defining one for our nation. The nation and our state have done little, in my opinion, to celebrate the 150 year milestone, missing a great opportunity to introduce the lessons of the conflict to a new generation. At least I can do my part. My columns about the big spring battles of the East will run a little past the actual 150th anniversary, in May. So if you are interested in seeing reenactors and standing on the ground where the battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor happened on the date 150 years later, I would suggest a trip to Virginia in May! The National Park Service has installed a new exhibit at the Chancellorsville Visitors’ Center, which covers the Wilderness and Spotsylvania. I will set the scene for our local boys, the men of the 125th and 169th NYS Volunteer Infantry Regiments.
When we left our Rensselaer County soldiers, they were dug in for the winter of 1863-1864, the men of the 125th N.Y. Infantry in Virginia, those of the 169th N.Y. on Folly Island in South Carolina. Over the winter, both regiments sent their Colonels home to Troy to recruit. The regiments were sadly depleted by death and disease. The Troy newspapers reported the presence of the recruiting parties, and ads sought men to enlist, offering bounties up to $965 for veterans of other units, and urging recruits to join their friends. The 169th even offered a bounty to people who brought recruits to enlist, $15 if the man was a new recruit, $25 if he was a veteran. The 169th recruiting party returned to the regiment by the end of March. An article about the 125th quoted a letter from a soldier of the regiment: “the regiment is small and the boys wish for speedy reinforcements in the way of recruits. So hurry up the young men from Troy…the officers of the regiment are very much liked, but the Colonel more than the rest…he is brave and cares well for his men..” Colonel Crandell and his recruiters did not return to the regiment until early May.
President Lincoln announced a further draft, seeking 200,000 more men countrywide to join the 300,000 drafted the previous summer. There has been much written about the draft, with its provision that men could buy their way out for $300 or hire a substitute. But as with the earlier draft, Rensselaer County met its quota of about 2100 men with volunteers, so that no one was actually drafted.
The Troy “Times” newspaper included many accounts of maneuverings of both the Union and Confederates over the winter, with speculation about the South- did it remain committed to rebellion or was it ready to rejoin the Union? Increasingly, articles debated what would and should happen to the Southern states and to the slaves once the Confederacy had been defeated. This certainly shows that the North fully expected to win, it was just a question of when. On the other hand, I just read a book called Lee’s Miserables by J. Tracy Power, detailing this time period for the Confederates. Much as it would seem unrealistic to us today, Southerners in general were equally confident of victory as 1864 began.
In winter and spring 1864, the “Troy Times” newspaper reported on international, national, and local news, but the emphasis was on the upcoming campaign season, as the Union and Confederate Armies and Navies prepared to resume fighting the Civil War.
The Troy paper was also full of the activities on the home front of the war. Nationally, the Sanitary and Christian Commissions had organized as volunteers to provide needed amenities to the troops and to care for the wounded. Rensselaer County had its own branches of both of those organizations. Sanitary fairs, concerts, and church socials were held in Albany and Troy during the winter to raise money for the national organizations. On the local level, there were two articles in the paper praising a Mrs. Haskell and her group from Lansingburgh who had made knitted mittens and night caps for the men of the 125th New York State Volunteers, one of the local regiments. A thank you letter from the regiment noted that the mittens warmed both the hands and, as evidence of the caring of those on the home front, the hearts of the recipients.
On February 2, 1864 the Troy “Times” reported that the 3rd Army Corps had had a grand ball at the headquarters of General Joseph Bradford Carr of Troy. He was based in a house near Brandy Station, Virginia. For the occasion he had a “dancing hall” erected behind the house, “tastefully decorated and brilliantly illuminated.” Regimental bands from Carr’s division provided the music for the affair, and ladies came from New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. The supper cost $1500, a huge amount, and the paper stated, “it cannot be better described” beyond stating the cost. The ball was part of “a new system of pleasure to beguile the tedium of camp life during the inactivity of the Army.” I question how much this relieved the boredom of the average soldier, as it seemed to be aimed at the officer corps.
George Bryan, the Lieutenant in the 125th whose letters written home to his friend Jennie in Schaghticoke have informed much of my writing about the regiment, wrote on February 22 that “there is going to be a grand military ball at our corps headquarters tonight. There is a few of our officers going to attend it. I shall not myself.” He did attend a ceremony that day honoring General George Washington on the occasion of his birthday, which he said was wonderful. The illustration is a drawing of the celebration of the 2nd Army Corps for Washington’s Birthday on February 22, 1864.
The 169th NYS Infantry Regiment, the other Rensselaer County Infantry regiment, had spent much of 1863 besieging Charleston, South Carolina from a base on Folly Island . From February 7-12, while their Colonel was recruiting in the North, the regiment marched to nearby Kiawah and Johns Island, South Carolina, burning a plantation and fighting with the Confederates based there. The purpose of the attack was to keep the Confederate soldiers there and prevent them from reinforcing Jacksonville, Florida, which had just been seized by a Union force. The Union army still was defeated at the battle of Olustee, and the 169th was then part of a force moved to reinforce those forces, camping at Jacksonville on February 23rd. At first the men were sad to leave their settled winter encampment near Charleston, but like many after them, they soon discovered the delights of Florida. They were ordered to Fortress Monroe, in Virginia, on April 20 1864, getting ready for the spring campaign season.
The “Troy Times” described one small action of the 125th Regiment, the regiment with our Schaghticoke boys, which interrupted their time in camp. On February 9, 1864 the men were ordered to form up and march from winter camp, just west of Washington, D.C. in Virginia, to cross the Rapidan River at Morton’s Ford and attack the Confederates behind their earthworks. The river was four feet deep and rapid- so the men had a rough time crossing, but took the Confederates by surprise and pushed them back, taking some captives. After spending a night sleeping on the ground, cold and wet, the men recrossed the river and returned to camp. The “Times” reported that the purpose of the attack was unknown, but George Bryan, our local boy, writing home to his friend Jennie Ackart, said that the purpose was “to find out the strength of the Rebel Army in our Front.” He did not participate, he was “sorry to say,” as he was on picket duty. He added, “The Schaghticoke Company done better than ever before, there was not a man but what was in his place and eager to press in. Schaghticoke may feel proud of her Company for they are good and brave men and fear no danger.” The paper reported that at least no men in the 125th were killed or wounded. Bryan added that the cold and wet men were issued whiskey when they returned to camp, and “it caused no trouble save a few felt ‘golly’.”
At some point in the winter, George Bryan got to go home. The timing is unclear from both the dates and the content of his letters. On February 10 he wrote to Jennie, “I am sorry I could not make you a visit while at home but you know that my time was so short that I could not see half of my friends. I did not make a visit at home….I hardly saw my mother an hour.” He said his “orders were not to be trifled with,” and he didn’t dare divert to visit everyone. This seems amazing to me. He was home but didn’t have a minute to see his friends and faithful correspondent Jennie? Especially as he adds that he had a fine time on the trip back to camp. He stopped in Baltimore and visited W.M. VanSchaick, a fellow officer from Company K, who was there recovering from wounds. Plus there was a gap in his otherwise regular letters to Jennie from February 22 to May 14, 1864. I really don’t know where he was all that time.
Jennie must have written to George that she was sad not to see him and afraid she would never see him again. He reassured her on the last point, but indeed, they would not meet again. She must also have written him about girls at home he might like. George is rather coy, saying they are all fine ladies. He writes that his friend Bratt was “a foolish boy to get married, although I may yet be as foolish…” This is the only letter which indicates that either he or Jennie may have considered the other as anything more than a friend. George also asks permission to burn Jennie’s letters to him, as they were starting to take up so much room in his limited pack.
Because of the big gap in George Bryan’s letters, my sources of my information for the upcoming battles are the 125th’s Regimental History, written by Chaplain Ezra Simons after the war, and the “Troy Times”. The 125th was part of the 2nd Corps of the Army of the Potomac, which was reorganized during the winter. The commander of the 2nd was General Winfield Scott Hancock, known as “Hancock the Superb.” The 125th was specifically under General Barlow and Colonel Frank- for reference when looking at maps of battles. Everyone, soldier and citizen, seemed to realized that with General Ulysses S. Grant in overall command of the Union Armies that this campaign season would be different. There was tremendous confidence in Grant. His order to General Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac, was “Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also.”
This spring my husband and I went to walk over the territory of the battles of the 125th in the spring of 1864 in Virginia. The overwhelming impression is that Virginia was one big battleground throughout the Civil War. With the Confederate Armies working to capture Washington, D.C. and defend Richmond, Virginia, and the Union Armies working to do the opposite, this was inevitable in retrospect. Richmond and Washington are just about 110 miles apart. We went to Fredericksburg, Virginia to begin our trip. A measure of the overlap of the fighting is that the National Park Service brochure for the area covers the battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862, Chancellorsville in 1863, and the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House in May 1864. There isn’t a separate park headquarters for each battle. The Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House come under the aegis of the “Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania Battlefield Park” with the headquarters at the site of the battle of Chancellorsville. The battlefields are a patchwork of modern residences and shopping malls interspersed with protected sites of battles sprinkled with granite monuments erected over the years by veterans’ groups. The National Park Service couldn’t possibly protect all of the battlefields. At this point the Wilderness is threatened by construction of a Walmart.
So at the beginning of May 1864 the 125th moved out of winter camp with the rest of the Army of the Potomac, marching from winter camp south, crossing the Rapidan River, heading for General Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. The Union Armies passed over the site of the battle of Chancellorsville the year before and clashed with the Confederates in an area known as “the Wilderness,” just a few miles to the west. The area had been logged over the years for fuel for a local iron industry, so was covered with a dense tangle of second growth forest, making visibility very poor.
The first day of the Battle of the Wilderness was May 5 and the 125th did not participate. On May 6 they were on the left of the Union Line, with all but 104 men on picket duty on the very end of the line. Those men, along with soldiers from two other regiments, moved forward through the thick brush under Lt. Colonel Aaron Myer of Troy, substituting for Colonel Crandell, who was still in recruiting back home. In fierce fighting, Myer was wounded in the thigh and the Regiment had to fall back when they ran out of ammunition. 34 of the 104 had been killed. “The fighting here..was terrific..far more severe than even at Gettysburg…the firing sounded like the roaring of the ocean.” The woods caught fire and burned some of the dead and wounded. Myer died a couple of days later and was first buried on the battlefield, then reinterred back in Troy. The “Times” reported that “the medical branch of the service has greatly improved since last summer. Hospital tents and food adapted to the wounded are brought with the Army and kept near the troops.” The Army had indeed made improvements, but two civilian organizations, the Sanitary Commission and the Christian Commission had organized nationwide to provide food, clothing, and nursing to wounded soldiers.
In prior years, the Union Army paused after each major battle to regroup, but not this year with General Grant in charge. Though the Union Army had suffered 20,000 casualties and the Confederates 10,000 in the two days of the Wilderness, Grants’ generals pushed on after Lee the next day.
By May 8th, 1864 the 125th had marched a few miles south, reaching Todd’s Tavern, on the right of the Union line. They moved forward again on the 9th and crossed the Po River, marching until midnight. Sometime in the confusion of marching, digging, and fighting, five men of Company K, the Schaghticoke boys, were captured by Confederate cavalry. They were Aretus Loomis, Archibald Fisher, Andrew Doty, Stephen McPherson, and Timothy Fields. The men were sent to the notorious prisoner of war camp at Andersonville, Georgia. Archibald got there just a few weeks before his brother Douglas died. Douglas had been there since February. The camp was closed in the fall, as the Army of General Sherman approached, and these five, along with the other prisoners who were still well enough to be moved, were sent to the new stockade at Florence, South Carolina. Stephen was shot “on the dead line” there. . There was an elevated wooden “line” a few feet from the prison stockade. If a prisoner crossed the line, he would be shot dead by the guards. This is what happened to Stephen. The other men were exchanged December 31, 1864. Aretus, Andrew, and Timothy survived their ordeal, though Aretus had several long term health issues as a result Archibald died on the ship en route to the hospital at Annapolis after his exchange, so close to salvation. The Fisher family of Schaghticoke had five sons, four of whom enlisted in Company K of the 125th. Two, Archibald and Douglas, died as a result of imprisonment, and two, John and William, survived. John is buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Schaghticoke.
On May 9, the Troy “Times” reported, “Glory, glory, a complete victory. Rebels on the run, Grant vigorously pursuing.” Both Union and Confederate officers and men immediately realized that this campaign would be different than the previous two years. Then, there would be a battle followed by several weeks of regrouping by both Armies. Under U.S. Grant, the Army of the Potomac just kept fighting. The “complete victory” was certainly an exaggeration. Both Armies were suffering horrible casualties, and Lee certainly wasn’t ready to give up.
Another innovation was that both sides began to build earthworks. As soon as they stopped, the infantryman began digging trenches and cutting down trees to form barriers to shield themselves. This became a common practice in later wars, but had not been done very much in the Civil War before this bloody year. The 125th had dug earthworks on the 8th, only to abandon them the next day. May 10 they fought the Rebels again, and again the woods caught fire, causing them to fall back. May 11 they marched all night. Chaplain Simon of the 125th said the men were exhausted from the marching, digging, and fighting.
May 12 was the decisive day of the battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, which occurred just a few miles south and east of the Wilderness. The opposing Armies had been facing each other for a couple of days. Much of the Confederate Army was arrayed behind earthworks in the shape of a mule shoe- a salient- subjecting them to attack from two directions. The 125th was in the brigade of the Army of the Potomac which attacked the tip of the mule shoe, again suffering 50-60 casualties, including the death of almost all of its lieutenants. The Union Army succeeded in overcoming the Rebels, but by that point they had built another series of trenches to their rear, flattening out the shoe, so that the battle just continued on a new line. The part of the battlefield including the “mule shoe” is preserved as a National Park Service site. It was so dug up into defensive trenches of all kinds that farmers never replowed it after the war. The trenches survive until today.
The Armies fought on for a few more days until Grant moved his men on South, trying to slide around Lee to Richmond. From May 8th to the 21st, the Army of the Potomac suffered 18,400 casualties, the Army of Northern Virginia 13,000.
At that point our letter-writer George Bryan finally writes to Jennie again. On May 14 he reported the results of the battle of the Wilderness and the death of Colonel Myers. “I do not know of any of the Schaghticoke boys being killed. There is lots of wounded officers to be seen here but not many dangerously wounded. I look at them I cannot help but think how long will it be before I am either killed or wounded. But if either you know that it will not be while running away from the enemy, and you know it is glorious to die in such a cause,..” This confirms what I have read elsewhere- that officers were especially liable to wounds and death as they led their men. The men had more opportunity to stay in the trenches and keep their heads down.
By the next battle of the 125th, May 23, Colonel Crandell had returned to his regiment, which had very reduced numbers, just 130 present for duty rather than the 1000 men they began with. He brought some new recruits, who were certainly thrust into fighting with no training. Our correspondent George Bryan reported to his friend Jennie on May 31 that he had twenty men in his company, which should have had 100. He added, “we have to build earth works at night and fight during the day.”
The Regiment crossed the North Anna River on May 23 on a pontoon bridge and attacked the rebels again. The North Anna battlefield is a historic site of Hanover County, Virginia, rather than the National Park Service. When I visited there, I was lucky enough to meet the local historian, who directed me to the area where the 125th would have fought, not within the park borders. They crossed the North Anna River almost precisely at this point, next to the modern road north and south. Today the river seems shallow enough to ford. After another inconclusive battle, the Army of the Potomac continued to march south and east, actually passing the Confederate capitol, Richmond, to the east, and ending up near Petersburg, Virginia, just south of Richmond. Like the Wilderness, this was also near a previous battle, this time that of Gaines Mill, part of a series of losses by Union General McClellan in his Peninsular Campaign of June 1862. On May 27 the Troy Times correspondent reported, “ I never saw the army in better spirits for all they have been marching and fighting for the last 24 days. It has every confidence in Grant and there has been scarcely any straggling. Marched 125 miles in a week. “
The 125th reached Cold Harbor, to the east of Richmond, on June 2, 1864. They quickly learned that the 169th NY, the other Rensselaer County Regiment, was relatively nearby. Where had they been? They had been in the Army of the James, commanded by General Benjamin Butler. That Army had landed on the coast of Virginia, near where the James River entered the Atlantic Ocean, just to the east of Richmond around May 1. This was land that had already been fought over in the war in the Peninsular Campaign of 1862. The 169th participated in a series of unsuccessful battles against the Confederates in May, with just a few casualties, called the Bermuda Hundred Campaign. A new tour map of the sites of the campaign, beginning at the National Park Service Headquarters in Richmond, has been produced for the 150th anniversary.
Unfortunately for its men, the 169th had reached Cold Harbor by June 1, when it participated in the first phase of that very bloody battle. On the battle map of Cold Harbor on June 1, the location of the 169th can be found near the Beulah Church. They were in the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Division of the Army of the James, under Colonel Devins. Their Colonel, John McConihe of Troy, was killed in the assault that day, shot three times, dying instantly. The mortality for Colonels in the Civil War was very high, leading as they did from the front and on horseback. The casualty total for the regiment was about 80.
Colonel McConihe’s body was returned to Troy for burial. The Troy paper reported, “ a painful gloom has been thrown over the city… he has fallen, sword in hand, bravely leading his noble comrades…”, then detailed all of the funeral preparations, including the order of the units which participated in the funeral cortege from downtown to Oakwood Cemetery, where he was buried. The body, despite being “in a poor state of conservation” lay in state at the County Courthouse. The funeral was June 8 from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Among the attendees was retired General John Wool and the Governor of New York State. McConihe has a very modest tombstone at Oakwood.
When the battle continued June 3, the Confederates were well entrenched, so that in the initial Union assault it is estimated that about 6000 Federals were killed or wounded in one hour. Thankfully for our men, neither the 125th nor the 169th were in the forefront of the battle that day. On the map of the battle for June 3, the 125th would have been at the far left of the Union line, in the reserve. The Troy “Times” reporter in the 125th stated, “From all appearances the armies here are gathering for the life and death struggle. We are to besiege the rebel works.. Our men can charge, they have done it..but we hope victory may be gained in other ways.” The men were willing to fight, but they saw very clearly the carnage that resulted from charging the entrenched foe.
The National Park Service Battlefield for Cold Harbor includes only a small section of the original site. The area is just to the northeast of the city of Richmond, and though it is not extensively built up, it is not rural like the area around the Wilderness. The Park Service ranger directed us to the area where the 125th was located during the battle, which was to the East of the park headquarters, a non-descript area near a gas station, now wooded.
After the initial fighting on June 1 and 3, the Union and Confederate Armies remained in place. The brochure from the Park Service notes that the battle of Cold Harbor showed that well-entrenched Armies were virtually “impregnable to frontal assaults,” a fact that was the story of World War I in the 20th century. A June 9 report in the “Troy Times” from the 125th, dated June 5 at Cold Harbor stated “so close are our lines to those of the enemy that a soldier might throw his hat into the works of the confederates.” There were a few casualties every day, as snipers shot careless men. The total Union casualties for Cold Harbor were about 10,000 men. So the total Union casualties from May 1 to June 12 were about 40,000 men. One can only imagine the trail of dead and wounded men scattered over Virginia from Fredericksburg to Richmond.
General Grant made one more attempt to end the war in 1864, stealthily moving his Army on June 12 to try to take the vital Confederate transportation and supply hub of Petersburg, just about 25 miles to the south. Though the Union Army had been unable to take Richmond, but if they could take Petersburg, Richmond could not last long. Unfortunately the initial Union assaults on the city were not pressed hard enough and Lee was able to get the Army of Northern Virginia into the city to defend it. The Armies settled down into a nine-month siege.
Where was the 125th in all of this? The Regimental History reported that they marched from Cold Harbor, boarded transports to cross the James River on June 12, marched and countermarched, and arrived at Petersburg in the middle of the night on June 15. On June 16, they were marched from one end of the Union line to the other, then charged the rebels in the vanguard, over hilly terrain on Shand’s farm, under Confederate fire the whole time. They lost 44 men, 14 of whom were killed, “the proportion of loss in killed was greater than in any battle in which the regiment had taken part.” Among the wounded was their Colonel Crandall, who was struck in the face by a piece of artillery shell.
“After the first rush of the charge was over,” a group of officers were conversing in a ravine when “a company of rebels brought a cross-fire to bear upon (them), and Lieutenant (George) Bryan fell. He lingered about a half hour in agony and then passed from earth.” This was George Bryan, our Schaghticoke correspondent. In his final letter to his friend Jennie Ackart, written May 31, he wrote, “I have escaped thus far, but may fall at any moment….it will not be running away from the enemy.” George is buried in Hudsonview Cemetery in Mechanicville.
On June 19, the 125th marched six miles further south, near the southernmost part of the siege at the Weldon Railroad. Skirmishing continued through the whole period. On June 22, they were part of a poorly planned and executed attack to try to cut the Weldon Railroad. The attack failed badly, with the loss of three more of the regiment’s lieutenants. The Regimental history also reports that “the hot weather combined with the poor water…tended to fill the hospital at City Point (the Union headquarters) and to send men home, either temporarily or permanently.” The 125th was again so decimated that it was recombined with a few other units under the command of its own Colonel, Levin Crandall.
Both Confederate and Union armies constructed elaborate fortified siege lines, and settled in for the long haul by the end of June. Ezra Simons in the Regimental History reports that the 4th of July was the first day the men had not heard weapons firing since the first of May. If you have ever been in southern Virginia in the summer, you can imagine the difficult time the soldiers had on both sides through the hot summer. It was dusty when it was dry and muddy when it rained, added to the unrelenting sun and humidity.
I will return to Petersburg later in the year, as the Sesquicentennial continues.
April 29, 2014Posted by on
The more I research and write about the history of the town of Schaghticoke, the more I wrestle with what is important to know….. We tend to read books about the big events: the wars, the important laws and their results, great movements, etc., and the important people: Presidents and Kings, Generals, dictators, etc. But I keep coming back to the individuals whose actions make up the events, whose support lets the important people lead. I find history at the very local level to be fascinating, and I guess the basis of this column is that I hope you do too.
Recently I wrote about the entries in the New York State Gazetteers of 1813 and 1824 for Schaghticoke, and concluded that a man named Munson Smith contributed at least some of the information to the author of the book. I decided to see if I could find out more about this man. Fortunately he had an unusual first name to go along with Smith, so he stands out. Unfortunately I can’t find out as much about him as I would like, but surprisingly, I did find out a lot.
Munson Smith was born October 7, 1775. I don’t know where and I don’t know who his parents were. I don’t believe he was born in Schaghticoke, however. While there were several Smiths in town at the time he was born, there were none in the 1790 and 1795 censuses. The first time I found Munson in local records was when he married Fannie Masters at the Schaghticoke Dutch Reformed Church on June 18, 1800. This was the only mention of either of them in the records of that church, but Fannie’s uncle Josiah and his wife had had a child baptized there in 1798, so the Masters were at least familiar with the church. The only other choice of church in town at the time would have been the Lutheran. Shortly after, the new family was captured by the 1800 census, with a family of one male 17-26, and one female 17-26, plus one male 27-44. Who was that older man? A brother of Munson? Impossible to know.
While I don’t know where Munson came from or anything about his early life and education, I feel he must have received more than a grade school education, just from the positions he held in his life. I do know that he married into one of the most prominent families in Schaghticoke. As I have written in this space before, the Masters came from Fairfield, Connecticut in 1783: father James, plus a grown family of five children and their spouses, well-off and educated people. Fanny was born in 1782 to James Shelton and Mehitable Allen Masters. I have written a lot about James’ brothers Josiah, who went to Yale, served as a U.S. Congressman, and Nicholas, who was instrumental in founding the Schaghticoke Powder Mill. James certainly was a farmer, and probably involved in the powder mill with his brothers. In any event, he was well-off. Sadly, his wife Mehitable died at age 37, just a few months after Fanny and Munson got married in 1800. I would like to think that Munson also came from Connecticut and knew the Masters family there, explaining how he married into such a prominent family, or that perhaps he had gone to college with Josiah, but I just don’t know.
Munson threw himself into his new community and politics. In 1805 he was secretary of the group which met to organize the new Presbyterian Church and went on to be a trustee. His in-laws, the Masters, were also involved in the organization of the church. By 1807, at age 32, he was elected Supervisor of the town, serving until 1811. This election at such an early age and so soon after arriving in town also make me think that Munson was well-educated and knew the Masters before he came to town. At the time, most men served just one or two years, so this tenure was unusual. He also served from 1814-1815 and in 1824. He alternated being supervisor with Herman Knickerbacker, who served from 1805-1806, in 1813, and from 1818-22. Herman was a U.S. Congressman from 1809-1811. He was a Federalist at the time, so perhaps he and Munson, a Democratic-Republican, ran against each other for the supervisor job a couple of times. Records don’t survive to show. But the men were definitely friends despite their political differences, as will be clear later.
In addition Munson was a school commissioner and inspector in the town. In 1809, while he was Supervisor the first time, he ran as a Republican for the New York State Assembly. While he polled more votes than his Federalist opponent in Schaghticoke and Pittstown, he was defeated overall in the district. He shared his political views with his –in-laws, the Masters. He was listed as a Captain in the 86th Militia Regiment in 1810. All men were and are in the militia from age 18-45, so it is not unusual that he was in the militia, but it is that he was a Captain. I do not know if he participated in the War of 1812 at all.
Munson became Postmaster of Schaghticoke in 1812, a political appointment for sure, and served until at least 1817 in that position. He was Secretary of a meeting of Rensselaer County Republicans in 1813, convened to endorse the candidates for election, including Daniel Tompkins for Governor, and of another meeting of representative Republicans from the whole Eastern District in 1817. I feel this selection indicates both his education, his power, and that he was respected in the area. Munson was named a judge of Rensselaer County in 1815. I don’t know how long he served, but for the rest of his life he was often referred to as “Judge Smith.” He ran again and this time was elected to the N.Y.S. Assembly in 1818. At the time, it was usual for men to serve just one or two terms, then return home, not making a career of the legislature as is often done today.
Meanwhile, Munson also got involved in business. In 1810 he became one of the first directors of the new Rensselaer Woolen and Cotton Manufacturing Company, located on the falls of the Hoosic River at the new village of Schaghticoke. That was never a successful venture, so probably not a source of any income for him, but his position is further evidence of his local prominence. He also had to have had some money to invest. One wonders if the Masters were also interested in being involved through him as a son-in-law. And for at least a short time, Munson became a mill operator. In 1818 he leased the grist and saw mills from the Rensselaer Woolen and Cotton Manufacturing Company for a year. As I said, the company, which included woolen, cotton, and linen mills, was not successful. Before it was sold in 1821, various people leased sections of it. The lease entitled Munson to use of the grist and saw mills, and mill yard. He would keep the mill flume and tub wheel in order and the company would maintain the dam. Another man leased the mill the following year, so this was not a long-term commitment by Munson.
Personally this was also a busy time for Munson. He and Fannie had a daughter Caroline before 1805. I have not been able to find her birthdate. Son Edwin was born in 1805 and daughter Frances or Fanny Matilda in 1807. Mother Fannie died in 1807 at age 25, perhaps because of complications of the birth? She is buried in the Masters Cemetery. Munson remarried, and it must have been very soon thereafter, to a woman named Charity, as daughter Sarah Masters was born in 1808. I would love to know Charity’s maiden name, but I have not been able to discover it. Daughter Ann Hull was born in 1809. The 1810 U.S. Census recorded the Smith family including 1 male under 10 and 4 females under 10, plus the parents- one male aged 26-44 and one female aged 26-44, plus an older man- over 45, and one slave. So Munson pressed on in many directions in life- politics, industry, the military, government, while fathering five children in ten years, losing one wife and marrying a second. The death of Fanny did not sever his relationship with the wealthy and influential Masters family. Of course his older children were Masters grandchildren. He acted as one of the appraisers of the large estate of Josiah Masters when he died unexpectedly in 1822. And he was a life-long friend of Nicholas Masters.
The 1820 U.S. Census showed the Smith family with just one male, 16-25, presumably son Edwin; and one male 26-44, Munson; plus one female under 10, Ann; 2 females from 10-15- there should have been three- and one female from 26-44, Charity. The family also had one free colored male from 14-25, 1 free colored female from 26-44, and one female slave under 14. This was the period of gradual emancipation of slaves, which ended in 1827. Two people were engaged in commerce- Munson and Edwin. That same year Munson purchased pew 20 in the new Presbyterian Church for $35. Pew 19 was purchased by Philip and pew 21 by Ebenezer Smith. Who were they? I don’t know about Philip, but Ebenezer appears in the 1820 census for Schaghticoke as a male over 45, living with just his wife, also over 45. He was engaged in manufacturing. I was hoping to find that Ebenezer and Munson were related, but the will of Ebenezer, who died in 1841, does not mention him at all. Ebenezer’s relatives were mostly in Edgartown, on Martha’s Vineyard. Smith is a very common surname, after all.
Munson and his wives did not have their children baptized at the Presbyterian Church, according to the records, but they were born very early in the history of the church, which began in 1803, so perhaps the records just do not survive. We know from his will that he retained his pew until his death, and purchased the other two Smith pews at some point. The Presbyterian Church was certainly that of the newcomers to town, and of the manufacturers. Munson and family attended church with the Masters, the Briggs, and the Mathers. In 1830, Munson was also a subscriber to the building of the new Methodist Church in the village, a wise move for a businessman.
I do not know where or if son Edwin Smith attended school beyond the local elementary schools, but Munson’s daughters all attended the prestigious and exclusive Troy Female Seminary, now Emma Willard School. Caroline, misnamed Catherine in the book “Emma Willard and her Pupils”, attended Mrs. Willard’s first school, in Waterford, then moved to the new “seminary” in Troy. Fanny Matilda “entered the Seminary” in 1822, Ann Hull attended in 1824, and Sarah Masters in 1824 and 1825. Ann died in 1832 and is buried in the Masters Cemetery. Caroline married Lewis B. Goodsell, a merchant of Cooperstown, in 1834. He was born in 1798 in Connecticut. Did Munson know his parents already? They moved to Chicago by 1839, then to Geneva, Wisconsin. They had two sons, one named Munson. Fanny did not married and lived on in Schaghticoke until her death of tuberculosis in 1885. Sarah married Tibbits Briggs, local merchant and industrialist, in 1830. This united Munson with another prominent local family. Tibbits’ brother Amos Briggs, in partnership with Richard Hart of Troy, owned most of the village of Schaghticoke. Sarah and Tibbits also had a son named Munson.
Munson must have been very proud of and pleased with his son Edwin. He became a merchant, politician, and office holder. He followed in his father’s footsteps, serving as town supervisor from 1836-1837, and postmaster in at least 1862. He was also town clerk in 1842. I believe that Munson first married a woman named Elsie, 1806-1835, who has a tombstone in the lot with him. In 1837 he married Charlotte Buel. She was born in Medford, Massachusetts, but lived with her uncle David Buel, a very prominent attorney and judge in Troy, while attending the Troy Female Seminary (Emma Willard School), beginning in 1823. Undoubtedly, Edwin met her through one of his sisters, who attended at the same time.
He was a delegate to both the Rensselaer County Democratic Republican and Whig Conventions in 1840. Perhaps through the influence of his brother-in-law Tibbits Briggs, Edwin was one of the first vestrymen of the new Episcopal Church in the village of Schaghticoke in 1846. Tibbits was a church warden. But in 1858, he and Charlotte joined the Presbyterian Church, the church of his father and mother. They had eight children
I found an ad in the “Troy Daily Whig” in 1846, dissolving the partnership of James G. Gordon, Edwin Smith, and Horton Ensign in Schaghticoke. Gordon and Smith would continue to both cast and sell all kinds of ironwork, including ploughs and all kinds of stoves. This is the only indication I have at this point of the type of business which Edwin had, and I had never read before of any iron being cast in Schaghticoke.
Returning to father Munson, he remained active in politics and business until his death in 1842. He was one of four delegates in Rensselaer County to the district convention of Republicans in Albany in 1833. In 1835 he was one of the directors (along with Bethel Mather and Amos Briggs) of the Rensselaer and Washington McAdam Road Company, applying to the N.Y.S. Legislature for an amendment to its charter to extend the time of completion for the road. In 1839, he was a delegate to a Railroad Convention called by Richard P. Hart of Troy in Saratoga, planning how all of the Eastern counties of the state would communicate to facilitate the construction of railroads. One of their concerns was how much or little the state government should be involved in the financing of the new railroads: such a modern-sounding concern.
In the 1840 census for the village of Schaghticoke, I found Munson living next door to two other very prominent citizens, Amos Briggs and Charles B. Stratton. His family was now reduced to 1 male from 15-20- I don’t know who that would be- plus himself- one male from 60-70, wife Charity- one female from 50-60, unmarried daughter Fanny- one female from 30-40, and 1 free colored female, aged 10-24- certainly a house servant. Also in 1840, Munson met with other Democratic Republicans in town to nominate candidates, and was named a member of the central committee. The “Troy Budget” published an ad numerous times in 1840 for the Troy Insurance Company, which had had a fire in its office and wanted to reassure its clients that it was very much in business. Munson was a director of the company. This is further evidence of Munson’s prominence in the wider community- and of his sources of income.
Munson died in 1842 and is buried in the Masters Cemetery with his first wife, Fanny. I could not find her tombstone, but the cemetery is very overgrown. Son Edwin and brother-in-law Nicholas Masters, who was called “friend” in the will, were executors, with witnesses William P. Bliss, who ran the powder mill, and Merritt Wickes. Munson left one-half of his house and furniture each to his wife Charity and unmarried daughter Frances. Charity specifically had the use of their north bedroom and its furniture, and was forbidden to sell the furniture. Each was also to receive one half of the income of the house and lot occupied by Dr. J.C. Crocker, and of the building occupied by Wickes and Stratton, and Masters, Swift, and Company as a store and office, plus one-half of his share of the tolls of the Schaghticoke Bridge Company. Frances was also to receive the bond and mortgage which Munson held against John Brislaw, amounting to $400, now due. Frances and Charity also received all “wood, meat, provisions and fuel” in Munson’s possession for use of the family.
After Charity’s death, her half would go to Munson’s friend Nicholas Masters, for him to hold in trust for Munson’s daughter Caroline, married to Lewis Goodsell and living in Chicago. If Caroline happened to die before her husband, Nicholas would use the proceeds to educate her children, or if they were too old, then divide the money among the children. Lewis did die in 1852, leaving Caroline with two young sons: Munson Smith, age 16, and Henry, age 13, so presumably this provision of the will could apply. Unfortunately, I do not know when widow Charity died, nor where she is buried. I think she died before 1850, as Fanny lived alone in the village in that census, next door to Norman Briggs, another brother of her brother-in-law Tibbits. Caroline lived on until 1896.
Son Edwin and daughter Sarah, married to Tibbits Briggs, were to receive Munson’s farm “north of the village,” and “my village lot, formerly owned by Nathaniel Rounds as a grocery store- now occupied by Hugh Brown,” also the lot and building formerly of Zephaniah Russell and now a blacksmith shop on the west side of the street near the east end of the bridge.” After the death of Charity, Edwin and Sarah would also receive the income of the lot of Dr. Crocker.
The rest of the estate was to be divided equally among the children. At the end of the will, Munson notes that Charity could only receive her share of the bridge tolls if she forgave Nicholas Masters the $500 promissory note she held against him. This indicates that Charity must have had some income of her own. One wonders if this provision was suggested to Munson by Nicholas, who was probably present when he made his will in June 1842. Munson also gave one of his pews (Numbers 19, 20, and 21) in the Presbyterian Church to son Edwin, one to Charity, who must reserve a place for Frances, and asked that the third be sold. At the time of his death, Munson’s friend Nicholas Masters and fellow businessman Amos Briggs were both trustees of the church.
The frustrating part of this will is that we don’t find out how much money Munson had! It’s the “residue” of the estate. But from a historical point of view, we learn that he was a partner in the bridge company, along with at least Amos Briggs- I already knew that- , that he owned not only his own home, but also a farm and four other lots with commercial buildings in the village: the Doctor’s home and office, the store and office of Wickes, etc., a blacksmith shop, and the grocery store. Dr. Crocker must not have stayed long in town- he does not appear in the 1850 census. I don’t believe that Wickes and Stratton was a long-lived firm. While both Merrit Wickes and Charles Stratton were listed as “merchants” in the 1850 census for Schaghticoke, Wickes was a farmer by 1855. Masters and Swift was the Powder Mill. Perhaps it had a separate office in the village, away from the manufacturing activity. Nicholas Masters was in partnership with Wyatt Smith. Both men were very close to Munson. Hugh Brown was an Irish butcher. There is no John Brislaw in the census, but there is John Brisland, a tailor. The will gives us a small snapshot of the vibrant businesses in the full-service village of Schaghticoke in 1840: store, business office, butcher, grocery, tailor, doctor, blacksmith- just from these few sentences.
The other part of the will is the probate file, which includes an inventory of his estate, made by Ira Gifford, a wealthy farmer, and Wyatt Smith, powder company executive. The inventory of nine pages reveals the Victorian home of a well-off family, with household furnishings of all sorts. The most expensive items on the list are “1 mantle Time Piece and Shade” valued at $25, a “carpet in north room” valued at $30, and a “Brussels carpet”, valued at $25. The home was carpeted throughout, including the stairs, and the furnishings included mahogany chairs, a “claw foot mahogany table,” a maple bedstead, a cherry stand, a settee and cushion, a sofa, sideboard, rocking chair, 12 cane-bottom chairs, a bureau (what my grandmother called a dresser), and several looking glasses. We learn that the house was heated with stoves, as the inventory includes six; and that the windows had inside shutters.
There were several lamps listed, including an “astral lamp and mat.” An astral lamp was “an Argand lamp so constructed that no interruption of the light upon the table is made by the flattened ring-shaped reservoir containing the oil.” The lamp burned whale or some sort of vegetable oil. So this was a house lit by lamps, not candles. There were many types of dishes, including 29 green and purple edged plates, plus specialized dishes and utensils such as a gravy boat, fruit dishes, custard cups, a cake dish, a dozen cut glass tumblers, cut glass wine and champagne glasses, ivory handled silverware, silver spoons of all sorts, breakfast dishes, and a Brittania coffee pot. There are two types of Brittania, one is silver, the other an alloy of tin, similar to pewter. I’m not sure which this would have been.
Other insights into the Smiths’ lives may come from the gilt spittoon- did Munson chew tobacco or was that for visitors-, traveling trunk- indicative of business or vacation travel-, 10 wine bottles- they were certainly not tee totallers-, and the “kitchen bedstead” -was that as part of a sick room? Or where the servant slept, handy to tend the fire? The list also included Munson’s pew in the Presbyterian Church, valued at $26, and 2 shares in the Schaghticoke Point Library Association worth $2.50. The latter is the first I have ever heard of a library in town. Munson’s wearing apparel was valued at just $21, and not itemized.
In the barn were a barouche, valued at $150 and a “pleasure double sleigh,” valued at $32. According to Wikipedia, a barouche was “a four-wheeled, shallow vehicle with two double seats, so that the sitters on the front seat faced those on the back seat. It had a soft collapsible half-hood folding like a bellows over the back seat and a high outside box seat in front for the driver. The entire carriage was suspended on C springs. It was drawn by a pair of high-quality horses and was used principally for leisure driving in the summer.” This means the Smiths were driven by a coachman. The barn contained basic tools, like a pitchfork and an axe, plus a gun, “a fowling piece,” valued at $3. In the midst of the list was an old map of the U.S., worth 50 cents.
Munson had an office, though it’s not clear if it was in the house, the barn, or a separate building. The furnishings are indicated as belonging in the office, which also included a library with 5 volumes of “Burrows Reports,” 4 of Blackstone, and one of the laws of New York, among other business-related books. Sir James Burrows was an 18th century legal reporter in England, who wrote “Reports of Cases Argued and Adjudged in the Court of Kings Bench, a foundation work in the law. Sir William Blackstone wrote “Commentaries on the Laws of England” from 1765-1769, another foundation work of the American legal system. I’m not sure if this indicates that Munson was in fact educated as a lawyer, or is a consequence of his service as a judge. Whichever, he certainly took his jobs related to the law seriously.
Later in the inventory, the rest of his library is listed. It is varied, including an 8-volume history of England, a book of Martyrs, a 2-volume history of the U.S. by Pitkin, 2 volumes of Newton Prophecies, and 3 volumes of Malte- Brun Geography, in sheets. I did not realize that Sir Isaac Newton did a lot of interpretation of the Bible, which resulted in publications after his death. Conrad Malte-Brun published a geography of the U.S. in 1827. Munson also had two books of true adventure: the narrative of Schoolcraft’s travels through the Northwest U.S. in 1820, published in Albany, plus that of Captain Riley, who was shipwrecked off Morocco in 1815 and traveled across Africa with his crew. His narrative was called “Sufferings in Africa,” published in 1817.
On the financial side, Munson was owed about $6,000. Most of that was due from Herman Knickerbacker, a great guy but a lousy businessman. Munson, and Herman’s former law partner Job Pierson held the mortgage on his house. Munson’s half of that was $2253. Herman died in 1855, and the property was foreclosed upon. He also owed Munson about $2000 otherwise. Munson also had 20 shares in stock in the Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad Company, valued at $2000, and 4 shares in the stock of the Schaghticoke Point Bridge Company, valued at $2400. The bridge across the Hoosic River was a toll bridge.
At the end of the inventory, the appraisers set apart “sundries ..for use of widow.” These included a dining table, 6 silver place settings, 6 gilt-edged cups and saucers, a Brittania tea pot, 6 mahogany chairs, a tin tea canister, two stoves- one in the kitchen, and one Franklin stove-. fire place tools, a water pail, a coffee mill, plus 1 Quarto Bible (indicating it was about a foot tall), 2 volumes of Locke’s essays, and LaFayette’s memoirs. If these were favorite books of Charity Smith, she was an intellectual. In his “Essays,” John Locke, 17th century British philosopher wrote of his philosophy of mind and thought. And the LaFayette was a new book. The Marquis de Lafayette, famous for his help to the American army in the Revolution, died in 1834, and his memoirs were published in English in 1837.
Three of Munson’s children, Edwin, Fanny, and Sarah, continued on in Schaghticoke. As I wrote earlier, Edwin followed in his father’s footsteps as businessman and politician. The 1850 census shows Edwin and wife Charlotte with children Ann H., 8; Charlotte B., 7; Elizabeth, 5; Lucretia, 4; and Ester, 2. By 1855, Ester is called Nancy, and the family has added son Edwin N., then 2. In each census, they had an Irishwoman in the family as a servant. In 1855, Sarah Harwood, a 39-year-old teacher, lived with the family. The 1860 census listed Edwin as a 55-year-old merchant, with no personal or real estate listed. Wife Charlotte, 49, had a personal estate of $500 and real estate of $600. Daughters Ann, 19; Charlotte, 17; Margaret E. (Elizabeth?), 15; and Lucretia, 13, were still at home. One source I found said they had eight children, but the census is too infrequent to reveal the truth. That is found in Smith plot at Elmwood Cemetery. It contains tombstones with no dates for “Little Eddie,”, “Little Nannie,” and “Baby Lucy,” plus Edwin E., who died in 1846 at age 6. So there were two Eddies, one who died even younger than six, and the 2-year-old Eddie of the 1855 census. The plot also includes M. Elizabeth, 1843-1910. This accounts for five of the Smith children. The LDS records also includes a Miss Chloe Smith, 1804-1851 in the plot. Who was she?
Edwin Sr., died in 1863. The 1870 census found Charlotte Smith, Edwin’s widow, living at the corner of River and Pinewoods Road, with an estate of $1200. Daughters Charlotte, a 26-year-old music teacher; and Lizzie, a 24-year-old school teacher, lived with her, as did her sister-in-law, Fannie, age 63, with an estate of $9000. According to the Presbyterian Church records and her tombstone, Charlotte, Sr., died in 1874. The 1880 census found aunt Fannie as the head of the household, in the village of Schaghticoke, with nieces Charlotte and Lizzie, still unmarried, and still teaching. Fannie died in 1885, and is in the family plot in Elmwood.
Sarah, who married Tibbits Briggs, was the other local daughter of Munson. Tibbits’ older brother Amos, was the wealthiest man in town for part of the 19th century, before dying impoverished. Amos helped Tibbits invest in and begin a couple of textile mills, but the ventures eventually ended in failure. The 1850 census showed that aspect of Tibbits’ career, as it listed him, at age 48, as a manufacturer with an estate of $4000. The family included wife Sarah, 42, two daughters, and the same school teacher who lived with Edwin and family five years later. By the 1855 census, Tibbits was a merchant. His family included daughters Sarah, 22; Fanny, 18; and son Munson, 16, a clerk. The 1860 census found the family living in the village of Schaghticoke, next door to his brother Pardon. Pardon was a cotton manufacturer and Tibbits a linen thread manufacturer. Children Sarah and Munson still lived at home. Munson registered for the Civil War draft in 1863, but did not serve.
By 1865, Munson Briggs was out on his own, a 26-year-old linen manufacturer, with wife Emma, 26, and daughter Emma, 1 3/12 years old. Tibbits and wife Sarah now lived alone, he still listed with an estate of $6000, with an occupation of manufacturer. By 1870 Tibbits was again a flax manufacturer, with an estate of $14,500, and unmarried daughter Sarah, now 38, lived with him and wife Sarah, but Munson was now merely a worker in the woolen mill, and he and his family shared a house with another family. As of the 1880 census, Munson and Emma were still in the village of Schaghticoke. He was an overseer in the new linen mill. Three of their children lived with them: Emma, 16; Howard M., 11, and baby Norman, 4. At some point, daughter Sarah married James G. Stafford.
To finish the story, Tibbits Briggs died of tuberculosis in September 1874, just a few months after his brother Amos, and is buried in Elmwood Cemetery, and Sarah Masters Smith Briggs died in New York City in 1890 at the home of one of her daughters. Munson Briggs’s wife Emma died in 1884 at age 45 of consumption, and he died of lung disease at the Marshall Infirmary in Troy in 1897, at age 58. Both are buried in Elmwood Cemetery. The interment records state that they lived in Lansingburgh at the time of their deaths. This means that Munson would have been left with an 8-year-old son when Emma died.
I would love to know if my conclusions about the life of Munson Smith are close to fact in any way. I feel he came here with an education, perhaps as a lawyer, from New England. He may have been from Connecticut like the Masters, allowing him an entrée to that family and qualifying him for marriage to a daughter of the family. Though his wife died young, he maintained his connection with the family through his life. He sent his daughters to the area’s most prestigious girls’ school. Through the marriage of his daughter Sarah, he also became aligned with a second very influential family in town, the Briggs. He was involved in all aspects of his community, quickly elected Supervisor of the town, then going on to County and State offices and offices in political parties; joining the militia; supporting its churches; investing in its industries; lending money to its most famous citizen, Herman Knickerbacker. He lived in a modern home, updated with the latest conveniences, and owned at least four other lots with businesses in the village of Schaghticoke, along with a farm and shares in the local toll bridge and the speculative Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad. He remained enmeshed in it all right up to his death.
Federal censuses for Schaghticoke: 1790-1900; NYS censuses: 1855, 1865
Sylvester, Nathaniel; “History of Rensselaer County,” 1880.
Rensselaer County probate files: in Rensselaer County Historical Society
Rensselaer County wills- in County Courthouse
“Troy Daily Whig” Nov 17, 1835; Aug 1839, July 1840; Sept 1840; 1846; 1855
“Troy Budget” June 20, 1834,March 20, 1840, April 1840
“Albany Argus” 1817, 1833, Dec. 27, 1835, May 15, 1830, April 1813
“Emma Willard and her Pupils”
Schaghticoke cemetery records; records of the Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed churches
Anderson, George, “Landmarks of Rensselaer County” , 1897
April 7, 2014Posted by on
The last post analyzed the entry for Schaghticoke in Horatio Spafford’s 1813 “Gazetteer of New York.” Mr. Spafford, strapped for money, had ambitions to write many more Gazetteers, covering a wider geographical area, but was only able to produce one other edition, another New York Gazetteer in 1824. He died in 1832 and is buried in the cemetery of the Lutheran Church in Lansingburgh, NY.
As one would expect, much of what Spafford published in 1824 was a duplicate of the 1813 edition. Things such as history and land types would be unchanged, one would think, but let’s see what had changed in the entry for Schaghticoke. To begin with, Schaghticoke was now 16 rather than 20 miles from Albany, though still 10 miles north of Troy. My GPS tells me that it’s 19 miles from Schaghticoke to Albany, though who knows where the measurements would begin or end, then or now.
Spafford caught one major change in the town…its boundaries. As he wrote, “In March of 1819 a strip of land across the S. end of this town was annexed to Lansingburgh, bounded N. by the Deepy Kill (sic), a small brook, now the line between this town and Lansingburgh, the transferred territory being as near as I can find out, about 2 miles wide.” This is true. As I have written before, I have been unable to discover why this alteration was made. It lasted until 1912, when the boundaries were restored.
Spafford paid very close attention to details, as in 1813 he consistently referred to the Hoosic River as “Hoosac creek”, but now more correctly calls it “Hoosac River.” He still mis-locates the village of Schaghticoke at the “mouth” of the Hoosac River, but has increased its size, from 15 to 25 houses. He still reports three churches, with 2 Reformed Dutch- incorrect. There were still a Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Dutch Reformed Church in town. In 1813 he described that some land was held by leases, and he repeats that statement, which I now think would be incorrect. I believe the leases of the land owned by the city of Albany were all converted to ownership by 1824. He also makes an unfortunate typographical error. The 1813 version correctly stated that European families first settled Schaghticoke in the early 18th century; the 1824 edition makes that the 16th century, very incorrect, and potentially very confusing to the reader.
As in 1813, Spafford reported the population statistics for the town. I believe he got the data from the U.S. Census of 1820. Unfortunately, the totals reported for the town are very faint in the online version, but a few of the numbers match up with the 1824 Gazetteer, hence my conclusion. The 1820 census added a bit more information, and Spafford included that: “Population 2522; 579 farmers, 8 traders, 153 mechanics; 10 foreigners; 37 free blacks, 59 slaves.” The number of farmers is actually 597 on the census, the number just transposed. The 8 “traders” were described on the census as “engaged in commerce,” which would imply storekeepers more than traders to me. The 153 mechanics were described as “engaged in manufacture,” which would include men who owned and worked in mills of different kinds. It is difficult to compare these numbers to the 1813 Gazetteer, as the town was now physically smaller. But to me the fact that the town still had a slightly higher population total in 1820 (2522 to 2492) means that it was still growing quite rapidly. Also, the drop from 94 to 59 slaves shows that gradual emancipation was still proceeding. It was to be complete in 1827.
The Schaghticoke entry continued, reporting “ taxable property $456228; 11 schools, 11 months in 12; $394.34;762;633; 475 electors, 14864 acres improved land, 2412 cattle, 546 horses, 4765 sheep; 17816 yards cloth; 3 grist mills, 6 saw mills, 2 fulling mills, 2 carding machines, 2 cotton and woolen factories. A.L.C, M.S., D.O.G., B. S.”
Let’s take a closer look at that string of numbers. I’m not sure of the source of the taxable property number- it was either the 1820 U.S. census or the 1821 N.Y.S. census, which Spafford used for the rest of this entry. Whichever, it is a huge increase over the $302,493 in the 1813 edition, despite the decrease in the size of the town. There were still 11 school houses in town, and the entry reports that students attended 11 months of 12 in the year. I find that astounding, as my previous research has shown that students mostly attended school in the winter months, and certainly never more than nine months of the year.
I looked back at the beginning of the Gazetteer to figure out the next numbers: $394.34;762;633 In 1821 the schools cost $394.34 in public money, and of 762 children in town between the ages of 5 and 15, 633 attended school sometime during the year. From the perspective of 2014, we certainly find the amount of money astonishingly small. To me it seems that the percentage of students attending school was quite high, but who knows how often they attended. Presumably the 129 students who did not attend included a few 5 and 6-year-olds whose parents didn’t want to have them start school yet, but were mostly children over 10 or 12, whose parents needed them to work, either on the farm or in mills for a wage. In my personal research I found that even in the 1870’s many boys attended school in the winter, but didn’t go back for the spring term, when they were needed on the farms. The number of electors had certainly grown a lot from the 229 in the 1813 edition, but that may reflect a change in the voting laws, allowing men with less land to vote.
Just to give a bit of perspective, the Gazetteer reported that the town of Pittstown was quite a bit larger than Schaghticoke, with 3,772 people, with 15 schools and 997 students, 30,838 acres of improved land, about twice as many cattle, horses and sheep, 23 saw mills, and 1 distillery! In 2010, Pittstown had a population of 5,735 and Schaghticoke 7,679. Of course our town is now restored to its pre-1819 borders.
The number of grist and saw mills in Schaghticoke has changed quite a bit from the 1813 Gazetteer: from 12 to 3 grist mills, and 11 to 6 saw mills. A few mills were lost with the reduction in town size, but this may reflect survival of the fittest. The other mills remained the same. I would say that the wool from the almost 5000 sheep certainly provided the raw material to the woolen mills.
As before, the initials at the end of the article are the contributors. The last three are the same as in 1813, but A.L.C. is new. There are two candidates for the A.L.C.: Allen Cornell was the Schaghticoke town clerk from 1816-1819 and Allen Conner was the Justice of the Peace beginning in 1823. Cornell seems the better choice, as he would have had access to data. As before, the M.S. was certainly Munson Smith, who was town supervisor during much of the period. The contributors seem to have given very little information to Spafford. For example, the Pittstown entry includes description of types of trees and sheep, and praise for the farmers and mill owners in the town. Spafford didn’t edit to a completely dry account. At the time it probably didn’t seem important to Mr. Smith; it’s only now that we would love to have known more about our town in its early days. Spafford’s list of contributors inspired me to research more about Munson Smith. In the following weeks, I will share the wealth of information that I was surprised to find.
April 7, 2014Posted by on
When I began writing a newspaper column in September 2010 the idea was to work systematically and chronologically through the history of the town. I got to about 1800 and got distracted by things like the history of the churches, the industrial revolution, the biographies of industrialists, military men, and local Congressmen, the bicentennial of the War of 1812, and primarily by the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. Still to come is a history of the Catholic Church and of schools in town, plus further information on the Civil War- through the whole upcoming year- and the upcoming centennial of World War I. I have done lots of research and writing about Schaghticoke in the 1800’s, and would like to try to draw a portrait of the town as it industrialized and developed in the first quarter of the century.
There are a couple of sources of information for this task: two “Gazetteers of New York” published by Horatio Gates Spafford in 1813 and 1824, and a couple of N.Y.S. Censuses: 1814, 1821, and 1825; and the federal censuses of 1800, 1810, and 1820. As with all sources, these are subject to errors. An extra problem is that, as I have noted before, the boundaries of the town changed in 1819, when the part from the Deep Kill south was taken from Schaghticoke and added to Lansingburgh. This would definitely impact the population and other statistics.
I will quote the whole passage in the 1813 Gazetteer about the town, providing commentary as I go. I have to say that my first inclination was to accept what was written as true, but of course Mr. Spafford’s work would be as subject to errors as anyone else’s. Indeed, from what I have read of him, he was a polymath or Renaissance man, trying to do everything, but without the funds. He was an inventor, geographer and writer, correspondent of Thomas Jefferson. He wanted to publish a Gazetteer for the whole country, but his finances limited him to New York State.
In the introduction, he states that he traveled to some of the more remote counties himself, and had some “Agents” collect material, but that primarily he sent questionnaires to prominent men in each county, town, and hamlet, and used their answers to write his book. Indeed, each section ends with a number of initials, presumably those of the contributors, but I can’t find a list of them in the book. Of course the quality of the material sent in would have varied greatly.
Spafford’s Gazetteer of 1813, entry for Schaghticoke*
(The asterisk sends the reader to this at the bottom of the page:) “This name, so long, crooked and hard that it puzzles every body, is said to have originated with the Mohawk Indians._ The original was Scaugh wank, a name by them applied to a sand-slide of near 200 yards elevation, extending for a considerable distance along the right bank of Hoosac creek, under an angle of about 60 degrees with the horizon. When the Dutch settled here, they added Hook to the name, now Schaghticoke Point.”
Well, this is the only place I have ever seen that talks about this a source of the name Schaghticoke. The Schaghticoke Indians were Mahicans- of the big language group of New England Indians- foes of the Mohawks, part of the Iroquois Confederacy. And I have been told that the word, which is also used by the Schaghticoke Indians near Kent, Connecticut, means something like where the waters mingle. Schaghticoke Point was the first name of the village of Schaghticoke. There is a major bend in the Hoosick River there, just before it goes over the falls, forming a point of land. But, again, according to all my research, this area wasn’t even settled until after the first bridge was put over the river at that point, about 1790. The map of the area of Dutch settlement at Schaghticoke from that time does not include that part of the river, merely noting the presence of the bridge over the river.
Spafford begins this entry:
Schaghticoke, a Post-Township, in the N.W. corner of Rensselaer County, on the E. shore of the Hudson, 10 miles N. of Troy, and 20 from Albany, bounded N. by Washington County, E. by Pittstown, S. by Lansingburgh, W. by the Hudson, or the County of Saratoga. It extends along the Hudson, 11 miles and along the line of Washington county, about 10, in a narrow strip of land formed by the course of Hoosac creek. The surface is moderately uneven, and the soil good for grain and grass. The Schaghticoke flats have long been celebrated for their richness and fertility, and the uplands have a soil of loam and some clay and sand. Hoosac creek, a large mill-stream, receives in this Town Tomhanoc creek, and these supply abundance of mill-seats.
This seems a pretty straight-forward description, interesting to me because of its emphasis on the soils. The “Schaghticoke flats” would be the area around the Knickerbacker Mansion, the first area of European settlement. I know that the soil of my farm has both sand and clay, and almost no rocks. We mostly don’t think of the Hoosic River and Tomhannock Creek in terms of their usefulness for water power for mills- but 1813 was the beginning of the industrial age in upstate New York, and it focused on sources of water power.
At the mouth of the Hoosac creek is a small village called Schaghticoke-Point, consisting of 15 houses; and here is the Post-Office, 20 miles north of Albany. It is situated in the N.W. corner of the town; and in the S. part, on the Northern turnpike, is another small village called Speigle-Town. The Northern turnpike from Lansingburgh to the N.E. part of Washington County, and another road of considerable travel to Whitehall, lead through this Town, besides many other common and very good roads.
This section confirms the small size of the new village of Schaghticoke, located where the new bridge crosses the Hoosic River. However, to me the mouth of a river is where it enters a larger body of water, and the village is certainly not at the mouth of the Hoosic, which would be where it enters the Hudson River. Spafford also calls our attention to Speigle-Town, located on the Northern Turnpike, at the junction of that turnpike with the road to Vermont, now Fogarty Road, and establishes it as the only other node of settlement in the town. I’m not sure what road he means led to Whitehall, which is in the same direction as Granville, the end of the Northern Turnpike.
There are 3 houses of worship: 2 Reformed Dutch, and a Presbyterian; and 11 school-houses- There are 12 grain mills, 11 saw mills, an oil-mill, fulling-mill, and 2 carding machines; and 2 companies are incorporated for manufacturing purposes, one for cotton and the other for linen, and their works are probably in operation at this time.
There were three churches in town at the time, but one was Dutch Reformed, one Lutheran, and one Presbyterian. The town had just been divided into eleven school districts by the new New York State school law, so that part of the entry is correct. As for eleven “grain” or grist mills, I have found there was one grist mill on the Deep Kill, at the border with the town of Pittstown; and three on the Tomhannock: one near where Route 40 crosses it, and two on Buttermilk Falls Road, one by the falls where the road crosses and another on what is now the Denison Farm. There was one on a stream north of the Hoosic River, and three at various places in the gorge of the Hoosic at the village of Schaghticoke. That adds up to eight.
Moving on to saw mills, I have found mention of one on the Deep Kill; one on a small stream emptying into the Hudson just south of Hemstreet Park; two on the Tomhannock, one near where it passes under Route 40 and one near the Denison Farm on Buttermilk Falls Road; one on the Wampanaconk near where it enters the Hoosic, up Masters Street; and one on the Hoosic at the village. That adds up to just six. I would say that saw mills can/could be very short-lived enterprises, very subject to availability of timber and to fire. They could also be seasonal, operating just in the spring, when a small stream would have enough water to run a mill. They could have missed documentation by the historians. Also, there were a keg mill and a turning mill on the Tomhannock, which could have been labelled saw mills, I suppose, as they both dealt in wood.
An oil mill processed flax seed, producing hard cakes, which were broken up for animal feed, and oil, used in both food and industry. The only oil mill I have heard of in connection with Schaghticoke was in the southern part of town- its name remains on the section of road known as “Oil Mill Hill.” The other mills Spafford mentions were at the new village of Schaghticoke. There were certainly a carding machine or two, which helped prepare raw wool for spinning, and a fulling mill, which did final processing of woolen cloth woven by hand. And Spafford implies that the cotton and linen factories were begun, but maybe not operating yet. According to what I have read, they were in operation by 1813. Spafford does not mention the machine shop, in operation as early as 1800, or a bellows factory on the Tomhannock, in operation as early as the Revolution. There was also the Farmers Manufacturing Company, which aimed to manufacture “woolen, cotton, and linen goods, … glass, and from ore, bar iron, anchors, mill-irons, steel, nail rods, hoop iron, (and other iron goods).” This enterprise did not succeed, but was in business at the time of the Gazetteer, as were several flax mills- not to make cloth but to process the flax grown, and a factory which spun thread from cotton.
So Spafford got some things right, but missed others.
The lands are held by different tenures, some in fee, some by permanent, and some by temporary leases. In 1810 the whole taxable property was $302,493, $32,294 of which was personal property; the whole population was 2492, including 94 slaves, and there were 229 senatorial electors. About the commencement of the 18th century some German and Dutch families settled on the rich alluvial lands of this Town, then occupied by a clan of the Mohawk Indians. M.S, D.O.G., & B.S.
Well, Spafford was correct that some Dutch families rented land beginning at the start of the 1700’s. They rented land owned by the city of Albany up until just about the time Spafford was writing his Gazetteer, when they got to buy the land. The land was occupied by Schaghticoke Indians, who were most definitely not Mohawks. I am a bit surprised that there was this confusion so close to the time when the Schaghticoke had lived here- 1750- but that may have been a function of who the men were who provided the information. There were German settlers, but they arrived at the time of the Revolution, and bought their land, for the most part.
As to the population and property data, that came directly from the U.S. census of 1810. In 1790, the population had been 1650. In 1814, the population was 2847, an increase of about 400 in just four years. The town was growing fast, to be expected with the beginning of the new nation and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The number of senatorial electors reflects that there was still a property qualification for voting in some elections.
This was the period of gradual emancipation of slaves in New York State. In 1790 there had been 143 slaves in Schaghticoke, but now some had died, and some had been emancipated. In 1790 virtually all the slave owners were descendants of the original Dutch inhabitants of town. In 1810, most of the slave owners were still those folks, most with from one to four slaves, but Nicholas Masters had four slaves, and a man named J. Fish had seven. Congressman Herman Knickerbacker had four and his brothers John and William nine and five slaves respectively. A few men listed one or two slaves and one or two free blacks in their households, including Charles Joy, who was a new mill owner from Boston.
I would love to know who those correspondents were, the M.S., D.O.G., and B.S. who provided the information about Schaghticoke to Horatio Spafford. In the 1810 census, there is one man, B. Sanford, with the intials B.S., and three with the initials D.G.- D.O Gillett actually has all three initials, plus D. Grawbarger and D. Groesbeck. The latter two would have been the descendants of very early Dutch settlers of the town, but I have never heard of Gillett or Sanford- they certainly were not prominent citizens of town. However, though he was not in the census, the M.S. was certainly Munson Smith, who was town supervisor off and on from 1807 through the 1820’s.
April 7, 2014Posted by on
This blog post was inspired by my recent reading of the Schaghticoke portion of “Spafford’s Gazetteer of New York of 1824”. I was familiar with the same gentleman’s Gazetteer of 1813, but the 1824 edition was new to me. In the course of finding it online, I discovered that the author’s full name was Horatio Gates Spafford. He was born in Vermont in 1778, just after the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga, where Horatio Gates was the commanding American General. Spafford’s parents were undoubtedly inspired by that event to name their child. In fact, Horatio also named his son, born in 1828, Horatio Gates Spafford.
In the course of my research into town history, I have found many instances of men named for famous people. Peter and Hannah Grant, the parents of local industrialist Isaac Travis Grant, named one of their many sons for their neighbor and U.S. Congressman, Herman Knickerbacker. Isaac and another brother John, named sons for another neighbor and local U.S. Congressman, Job Pierson. Isaac’s partner, Daniel Viall, named a son for Isaac. Many, many local Civil War veterans, men who were born between about 1830 and 1845, were named for Andrew Jackson, George Washington, James Knox Polk, the Marquis de Lafayette, and other prominent statesmen. The attraction of Washington’s name is obvious. Jackson, President from 1829-1837, died in 1845; Polk, President from 1845-1849, died in 1849, and Lafayette, the French aristocrat who helped in the American Revolution, did a “farewell tour” of America in 1824-1825 and died in 1834.
In the course of my twenty years as a high school teacher, I cannot remember a child named for a famous statesman or woman. One of my daughters does have friends who named their daughter Reagan, for the President. How about you? Many children are named for relatives, dead or living. I am named for my great-grandmother, whom I knew as a child. Three of my four daughters have middle names commemorating relatives or friends.
But what about naming for the famous? Does our culture do it anymore? If so, do we name for sports figures? Politicians? Hollywood stars? For our close friends? Whom would we choose and why? Google says that many people don’t name their children for famous people but rather for their children, for example, naming a daughter “Harper” because soccer star David Beckham named his daughter that. And here I would have assumed that “Harper” was for author Harper Lee!
Certainly when we named our children, we knew that their names would forever remind us of their namesakes. Do we have people in our culture that we would wish to remember through our children? Will there be an uptick in babies named “Nelson” after Mandela? That name is #560 on the list of names used in the U.S. last year. Whom would you choose…if anyone? Do we have statesmen and women worthy of emulation? It’s fun to think about.
April 7, 2014Posted by on
This was a newspaper column in late December, 2013, hence the choice of poem below. I have been dilatory in updating this blog, but busy writing and researching new things.
Back in the fall, the Melrose Methodist Church celebrated its 160th Anniversary. Thanks to a correspondent, I have more to add to the history of the Church. Christopher Phillipo directed me to the Reverend Joseph C. Booth. He was a Methodist minister, and as was typical of the sect, spent just a couple of years at each church to which he was assigned. Booth was minister at Melrose from just 1912-1913, but must have found something here which attracted him, as when he retired in 1927, it was to Avenue A.
Joseph Booth was born in Gursley, England, about 1864. He attended school there, and emigrated to the U.S. in 1893. Perhaps he had already met his future wife in England, as he married Elizabeth Ambrose, born in Cambridge, England, in 1895, shortly after she emigrated. As I said, Methodist policy was to move its ministers frequently, and move Joseph and Elizabeth did. He was a minister in Redford, near Saranac, NY in 1894, Elizabethtown from 1895-1898; Schuyler Falls from 1899-1900, Chazy from 1900-1905, Warrensburg from 1906-1908, Williamstown, Massachusetts from 1909-1911, Melrose from 1912-1913, Mayfield from 1914-1918, Waterford from 1919-1921, Troy from 1922-1924, and Brandon, Vermont from 1925-1927.
Early in their marriage, Joseph and Elizabeth had a child who died. About 1912, her father, William Ambrose, aged 69, and sister, Sarah, 42, moved in with the couple. Though Joseph and Elizabeth became U.S. citizens in 1911, William and Sarah did not. The 1930 census showed them in retirement in Melrose, owning a home worth $1800, living next door to George Strait, the Methodist minister. The Straits would have lived in what is now the Halloran Home on Avenue A. William was now 84. Elizabeth died in 1936, her obituary reporting that “she had been in ill health for about 42 years.” Shortly after, Joseph married his sister-in-law Sarah. He died in 1942 and she in 1949. All are buried in Elmwood Cemetery, their names on the same stone.
In addition to being a minister, Joseph was a poet. About 1915, The Troy “Times” began to publish his poems. Mr. Phillipo links to about 20 of them on his blog: http://doesnotevenrhyme.blogspot.com. I felt the following poem was particularly appropriate for this time of the year.
“Father Christmas!” by Rev. Joseph C. Booth (1927)
Old Father Christmas, bending ‘neath the weight
Of centuries, comes down his frozen track,
With variegated gifts piled in his pack,
The birthday of the Christ to celebrate.
In honor of this great, eventful date,
Let us, in preparation, show no lack;
Let not our heart be cold, our hands be slack,
But joyfully responsive and elate.
In harmony with God’s stupendous gift,
With self-denying efforts crown the day;
The hungry feed, financial burdens lift
And drive the pangs of poverty away;
Hail, Father Christmas, may thy coming prove
A glad memorial of redeeming love!
Melrose, N. Y.
Troy Times. December 24, 1927: 20 col 2.