History of the Town of Schaghticoke

the results of research about the history of the town of Schaghticoke

Thomas Cornell Ripley, another now-forgotten prominent citizen of Schaghticoke

thomas ripley

Some years ago, my brother brought my attention to this man, who is in an elite group in Schaghticoke: member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Thomas’ predecessors in this role were Job Pierson and Herman Knickerbacker, both of whom served in the early 1800’s.  All three men were lawyers who served a brief time in Congress, Herman just one term, Job two, and Thomas just a few months. But while Job and Herman went on to become Rensselaer county judges, with busy law practices on the side, Thomas basically was a farmer, who moved to Michigan soon after his service.

Thomas Cornell Ripley was the son of Abner and Ann Cornell Ripley, born in 1807. A couple of sources say he was born in Easton, a couple in Broadalbin, Fulton County, and the 1855 census says he was born in Saratoga County. I feel he had an early association with Schaghticoke, as there was an A. Ripley in the 1810 census of the town, listed near the Masters families in the northern part of town. That indicates Easton as the proper birthplace to me. By 1820, and thereon, the Ripleys lived in Broadalbin, probably the source for saying that Thomas was born there. In any event, Thomas was a good farmer’s son, but clearly smart. He taught school for a couple of winters before going to R.P.I., where he was in the third graduating class in 1828. He returned to Fulton County, where he studied law with Daniel Cady, father of suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Cady, a firm Federalist, was a lawyer, who served in the U.S. Congress from 1814-1817, and later in life became a N.Y. Supreme Court Justice.

Thomas practiced law in Little Falls in 1833, but moved to Schaghticoke about 1835. He married Ruth Richards, daughter of Dr. William Richards of White Creek, in 1836. Thomas and Ruth settled in Schaghticoke. The 1840 census shows the family, though, oddly, no occupation is indicated for Thomas, nor is he listed in the census category of “learned professors and engineers”, with the other lawyers. I feel that is just an error. By the 1850 census Thomas, now 43, was listed as a lawyer who owned $2500 in real estate. Wife Ruth was 40, and the couple had two children, Juliett, 12, and Sarah, 5. Thomas and Ruth and the girls also appeared in Schaghticoke in the 1855 NYS census. The following year, they moved to Saginaw, Michigan.

In his years in Schaghticoke, Thomas practiced law and got involved in politics. He was Secretary of the Schaghticoke Whig Convention that first year he came to town, and was elected a delegate to the Whig County Convention. He was a constant member of the Schaghticoke delegation from then until his departure for Michigan. Fellow local Whigs included Amos Briggs, co-owner of most of the mills in the gorge of the Hoosic River, and Wyatt Swift, President of the Schaghticoke Powder Mill.

The only office I can find Thomas held before election to the U.S. House of Representatives was as a School Inspector in Schaghticoke. He must have been impressive to his fellow Whigs, however, because when Congressman Richard Herrick of Greenbush died suddenly on June 20, 1846 in Washington, D.C., in the middle of his term, Thomas was nominated and then elected to fill his place. The report of the nominating meeting said he was a “young and able member of the legal profession, a consistent and efficient Whig, in every way morally and politically deserving of the warm support of the whole Whig strength of the County.” Thomas served just from December 1846 to March 1847. Fellow Whigs included Daniel Webster and Henry Clay.

It seems likely that the Ripleys chose to move to Michigan as part of a migration of Thomas’ whole family. His four siblings moved to Michigan as well, along with his mother. His father had died in 1850. Saginaw, Michigan was booming at the time, a center of the lumber industry.

I have been unable to find Thomas and Ruth in either the 1860 and 1870 census for Saginaw, though I know they were there. The non-population portion of the 1860 census lists Thomas along with other farmers. He owned 80 acres of land worth $3000. He had six milk cows and six other cows, and nine swine. The year before the land had produced 100 bushels of wheat, 50 or rye, and 100 of oats. Both of the Ripley daughters married and stayed in Michigan. Thomas did get involved in politics in Michigan, joining the Republican Party shortly after its founding in 1854, according to a history of Michigan. He served as a local school superintendent, and was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives in 1873- 1874. A Wikipedia article says he practiced law in Michigan as well.

By the 1880 census for Saginaw, Michigan, Thomas was 73. He was listed as a retired farmer, living just with wife Ruth, now 64. Ruth died in 1890 and Thomas in 1897, aged 90. They are both buried in Saginaw.

Bibliography:

Biographical record of the graduates of RPI, 1900

US and NYS Census

Wikipedia article on Thomas Ripley- see its bibliography

Happy Flag Day!

flag day

We all know the story of the U.S. flag, right? And how to display our flag, right? Well, maybe not everything. Just in case, I’ll run through a bit of history and a bit of law. Flag Day, June 14, celebrates the adoption of the first U.S. Flag in 1777. It is also the birthday of the U.S. Army, which happened two years earlier. President Woodrow Wilson established June 14 as Flag Day in 1919, and the Congress made it official in 1949.  Of course Troy has the largest Flag Day Parade in the country.

The current U.S. flag is the 27th in our history. The arrangement and proportions of the flag weren’t established officially until 1912, so up until then, flags could and did vary in how the stars were arranged. At first a star and stripe were to be added for each new state, but the stripe part got too awkward. In 1818, it was decided that a star for each new state would be added on the 4th of July following the admission of the state to the union. In 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed an Executive Order providing for the current arrangement of stars and stripes, and our current flag has been in use since July 4, 1960, when Hawaii’s star was added.

As to display and use of the flag, the first flag code was adopted in 1923 by a National Flag Conference consisting of representatives of the armed forces and many patriotic organizations. The U.S. Congress didn’t adopt the code until 1942. Though it lists many detailed rules for flag use, it imposes no penalties for misuse. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on several occasions that it is up to the states to impose penalties.

The flag code states that “the flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing.”  It is a very long document, available online, so I will cite the highlights. The flag may be displayed on a flag staff next to a building from sunrise to sunset…but should only be displayed at night if illuminated. So if you as a private person have a flag on a pole, raise and lower it daily unless you have a light. If you have a flag on a staff angling out from your house, put it up each morning and take it down at sunset. If you find that onerous, display the flag on holidays.

There are very detailed instructions for carrying the flag in parades and displaying it at speeches or ceremonies. In general, it has to be a bit higher than a state or other flag, and to its right. It may not be draped over a car or anything, except a casket. For a burial, the union (stars) go at the head and left shoulder of the casket, but it must be removed before the casket is lowered into a grave.

When hanging, a flag may never touch anything beneath it, and it should never touch the ground. It may never be used as wearing apparel, bedding or drapery, nor as decoration. It may not be attached to anything nor used for advertising, nor be embroidered on anything nor put on athletic uniforms. A flag patch may be put on the uniforms of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. Anyone may wear a flag lapel pin over the left side- the heart.

“When a flag is no longer a fitting emblem for display, it should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.” Sometimes boy and girl scout troops or American Legion or VFW groups hold flag disposal events. But you could do it yourself, in a dignified way.

So I will merely urge you to follow the code. It is wonderful to be patriotic and display the flag, but to me the patriotism disappears when the flag is allowed to become a rag.  To me, the same people who rant and rave over people who desecrate the flag are doing the same thing when they display a faded, now- pink and gray flag or wear a tee shirt with the flag unflatteringly spread over a bosom or shorts with the flag over a butt or keep a hat on while saluting the flag and singing the National Anthem.

The Catholic Church in the town of Schaghticoke

In previous posts, I have recounted the history of various churches in Schaghticoke. Next up is St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church, now Church of the Transfiguration. To step back and look at the big picture for a minute, Dutch- speaking settlers from Albany founded the Dutch Reformed Church in the 18th century in Old Schaghticoke. German- speaking Lutherans from the Palatine region of Germany founded the Lutheran Church at the end of the 18th century in the Melrose area. Incoming New Englanders began the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches in the early 19th century, both in the village of Schaghticoke and Melrose.

And Irish immigrants were foremost in the founding of the Catholic Church around 1840.  They had come to Schaghticoke to work in the burgeoning textile mills in the village of Schaghticoke, and on the thriving farms, some as single men, and others with their families. According to Sylvester’s History of Rensselaer County, the Catholic Church began by sending out missionaries who travelled on foot in the area from Albany to Lake Champlain from 1835 to 1845. During that time, churches were established at Schaghticoke, Pittstown, Johnsonville, and Buskirk’s Bridge, among other places, as a result of their efforts.

In Schaghticoke, Father John Shannahan, pastor of St. Peter’s in Troy, guided local people to form a church in September 1839. The first trustees were Patrick Butler, John Brislan, James Ryan, Daniel Doherty, William Graham, Simon Bogan, James Conety, Anthony Wall, and Edward Ward. Of those, only three were still in town in 1850. They were John Brislan, a tailor born in Ireland; Daniel Doherty, an illiterate manufacturer born in Ireland; and William Graham, a dyer born in Ireland. At first services were held in a school house, located on Chestnut Street just across the street from the old town garage.  Father James Quinn, assistant pastor at St. Peter’s, was the first priest. The parish also included Valley Falls and Johnsonville.

George Tibbits of Troy donated the original 160 x 60’ lot for the church building, which was completed in 1842 at a cost sometimes given as $500, sometimes as $5000. Some members said the new church looked “like a barn,” which might indicate that the lower figure is correct.  According to the deed, the church trustees were to always maintain a good fence around the property.  If the church ceases to be used for religious purposes, the property reverts to Mr. Tibbits or a descendant. The original deed specified that some of the land would be used as a “burying ground, and indeed there was a cemetery next to the church. About 40 Irish immigrants were buried there, in addition to others.  According to Anderson’s “Landmarks of Rensselaer County,” the first priest after the church was constructed was W.P.Hogan.

St. John's Church with the cemetery to the left

St. John’s Church with the cemetery to the left

Over the years, the parish has been served by many priests. Quite a few of the early ones were born in Ireland, and one, Father Meagher, was born in Portugal.  The Very Reverend Hugh Quigley was priest from 1849-1854.  He was born in poverty in County Clare in Ireland in 1819 but was educated at the University of Sapienza in Rome..or  St. Mary’s Seminary in County Cork. The biography posted by the library in County Clare states he was an Irish patriot who was forced to leave Ireland after advocating too strongly for the Irish suffering grievously during the potato famine. After another stint in Rome, he arrived in New York in 1849. The New York diocese sent him here that same year. Indeed, he shows up in the 1850 US Census for Schaghticoke, age 30, living with a housekeeper, Mary Hynes.

Reverend Hugh Quigley, Irish firebrand

Reverend Hugh Quigley, Irish firebrand

Rev. Quigley continued to be a political activist who helped his Irish parishioners organize both civil and military organizations to celebrate their heritage. He agitated until he got the elimination of tolls for parishioners having to cross the bridge over the Hoosic River to attend mass, probably most of his flock.  Quigley wrote articles debunking prejudices against Catholics. He worked on the state level for better working conditions for railroad laborers.

He also challenged the New York State Department of Common Schools over Catholic students being forced to read from the King James Bible in the public schools. The “Brooklyn Eagle” published an account of his complaint to the Superintendent in November of 1853. Rev. Quigley stated that most of the schools in Rensselaer and Washington Counties “interfered” with their Catholic students by forcing them to “join in prayers and to read and commit (to memory) portions of a version of the Bible of which the Catholic Church disapproves.” Specifically, Margaret Gifford, teacher in South Easton, had forced William Callagan, a 12 year old student, to “study and read the Protestant testament” on August 8. When he refused, she consulted with her trustees, then ordered him to do it again the next day. When he refused again, citing the wishes of his church and his parents, she “chastised him severely with her ferrule, and then expelled him ignominiously from the school.” The ferrule would presumably be the hard tip of her pointer. The superintendent of Common Schools, Henry S. Randall, agreed with Reverend Quigley.  A teacher could open school with a prayer, before the regular school hours, but otherwise prayers could not form part of the curriculum. He added that while the Bible could be read as literature in school, no student whose parents objected would have to do so. The behavior of the teacher was called “barbarous” and “repugnant”, and Crandall added, “I cannot think that the local school officers in those intelligent communities would insist on such a narrow and persecuting policy.”

Doing a bit of research, I found many Giffords in the southern part of Easton in the 1850 census. Elihu, 48, a well-off farmer, had a family including wife Mary, 34, (she must have been a second wife), and children including Margaret S., 16, who had attended school in the past year. She was still living at home in the 1855 census, now 21, though she had no occupation listed. Assuming she was the teacher, this would put her as 19 in 1853. Also in the 1850 census was the family of John Calahan, 38, born in Ireland, no occupation given, with wife Ellen, 36, also born in Ireland, and four children born in New York: Eugene, 9; William, 8; Ellen, 4; and Margaret, 1. Eugene, William, and Ellen had all attended school in the previous year. And this William would be the correct age to be the boy in the case.   I did not find them in the 1855 census, though there were a couple of other Calahan families in Easton. The school house in South Easton, district 3, was described as frame, poor, and worth $100 in the 1855 census. It was located up Bell Road, just over the Schaghticoke border into the town of Easton, as was the Elihu Gifford farm. So the Calahans and Giffords were neighbors.

I find this case wonderful to read about for many reasons. I admire many of the people involved, from Reverend Quigley, such a strong advocate for his parishioners at a time when Irish Catholics suffered from lots of prejudice in this country, to the Calahans,- both the parents, who first, travelled a long way to Schaghticoke to go to church, second, had strong beliefs which they imparted to their child, and third, stood up to the Protestant establishment in their new community.- and little William, who stood up for himself.

I also admire Margaret Gifford, granted a young woman with prejudices, but a product of her time. She was probably educated only in the school where she now found herself a teacher. She consulted with her supervisors before carrying out her punishment, and perhaps was merely emulating what she had experienced herself. A young woman teacher in a one-room school could be faced with students of all ages and behaviors, really under pressure to have good discipline. Having one young man succeed at facing her down could set a very bad precedent.

I also am extremely impressed with the NYS Superintendent of Common Schools, advocating for ALL of the pupils. Mr. Randall cited a similar decision of 1838. So in a climate rife with bigotry and prejudice, NYS stood on the side of its Catholic students and the Constitutional separation of church and state.  This is particularly interesting as at some point this ban on prayers no longer held.  Many schools in NYS used opening prayers up until the Supreme Court decision which went against school prayer in 1962. The Regents had even adopted a simple prayer for use in 1955. I remember praying at the start of school in my early years of elementary school, along with saying the pledge of allegiance and singing “America the Beautiful.”

Anyway, returning to the wonderful Father Quigley, by the 1855 NYS census, he was living in a brick building in Lansingburgh, with a housekeeper named Bridget Gallagher., presumably serving at a church there.  He went on to help develop the University of St. Mary in Chicago, and worked among the Chippewa Indians of Lake Superior and the gold miners of California. Meanwhile he wrote many books, fiction and non-fiction.

The New York State census of 1855 records that the value of the Catholic Church in Schaghticoke was $2,500, and that the church also owned other real estate worth $2,500. The church seated 300 people, with average attendance of 500, more than any other church in town. The priest’s salary was $450 per year. The new priest was William Fennelly, a 44-year-old Irishman. Mary Doran, another Irish immigrant, was his housekeeper.  Ten years later, the 1865 census recorded the value of the church as $8,500. The capacity was 400, with average attendance of 400 as well, and the priest’s salary was $600.

In 1859, Bishop McClosky of Albany turned the parish over to the Augustinian Fathers, and Father Lewis Edge became pastor. The Augustinian Order had been in the U.S. since 1796. In 1844 there were only 12 priests and 10 lay brothers in the order. A period of growth followed, and there were 14 Augustinian churches in four states by 1874. Father Edge shows up in the 1860 census in Stillwater. Schaghticoke had no rectory, but perhaps there was a home owned by the Augustinians across the river. He was born in Ireland, 39 years old, and lived with a housekeeper and servant.

Father Edge renovated the church, adding the bell tower, increasing the size of the building, and installing stained glass windows- making it look less like a barn. He also purchased the property fronting on Route 40 from Mr. Tibbits to improve access to the church. It had faced only on the side street.  The original steeple was 150’ tall, but it was lowered in 1939 after a second lightning strike.

this photo also shows the cemetery

this photo also shows the cemetery

Further improvements occurred under Father James Darragh, with the purchase of a Meneeley bell “which had won honors at the fair at Saratoga” in 1866. The history written to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the parish in 1992 states that the bell was rung as a fire alarm and to celebrate national holidays in addition to its normal use to call parishioners to church.  Father Darragh also oversaw the erection of the first rectory, which was located across Chestnut Street from the church. In 1867 Father George Meagher was the first to occupy the rectory, which he described as “miserable.” The building was demolished in 1967 after it was partially destroyed by fire. Though he has an Irish surname, Father Meagher was born in Portugal. The 1870 census for Schaghticoke lists him as 49 years old. Marry Murry, 29, was his housekeeper, and Edward Stearns, 15, his house servant.

Over the years, priests renovated both the church and the rectory.  Another major step occurred in 1872, when Father Timothy Donovan directed the purchase of 14 acres at the corner of Route 40 and Stillwater Bridge Road for a new cemetery. Some of the tombstones were moved there from the cemetery next to the church, some left behind. I have been told that those left behind were tipped over and sodded over to make lawn mowing easier, probably during the 1950’s. I know some tombstones were left as my family and I recovered a bunch of pieces after the new parking lot was installed in the late 1990’s.  In 1890 a vault and a caretaker’s house, now gone, were constructed at the new cemetery. The vault was constructed by Timothy Sullivan. So far, we have not been able to learn anything about him.

The 1880 census recorded the priest as E. Augustin Hala, a 41-year-old Irishman. That is a new surname to me, and I wonder if it was something quite different, just said with quite an accent. There was a second priest, James F. Oriely- actually O’Reilly ,another Irishman, aged 28. They had a housekeeper, Hannah Sweeney, and a man servant, John Madigan.  The parish history skips over Hala to record that during the pastorate of Father James O’Reilly, from 1879 to 1886, the rectory was sold and the home of E.B. Arnold at 6 South Main Street, across Route 40 and now just before the bridge on the east, was purchased for $8,500. It had an ice house, windmill to pump water from the well, and a carriage house. It had been the home of Oliver Arnold, a treasurer of the state of New York and first president of the village of Schaghticoke. I feel it was originally built in the 1840’s by a president of the Schaghticoke Powder Mill, Riley Loomis.  Father O’Reilly also began the construction of St. Monica’s Church in Johnsonville. During the pastorate of the next priest, Father Nicholas Murphy, the missions in Johnsonville, Buskirk, and Pittstown were transferred to the Diocese, and the church in Valley Falls, Our Lady of Good Counsel, was constructed. Anderson’s “Landmarks of Rensselaer County” states that the mission in Pittstown was added during the pastorate of Reverend George Mahar.

the rectory of St. John's showing some of the outbuildings

the rectory of St. John’s showing some of the outbuildings

another photo of the rectory

another photo of the rectory

From 1872 until 1983, the parish often had an assistant pastor, ranging from young men at the start of their careers, to those who were in Schaghticoke as a pre-or partial retirement position. For example, in 1905, Father Edward Flynn and his assistant William Donovan had Anna Walsh, age 29, as cook, and Edward McCasky, age 20, who had arrived two years earlier from Poland-Russia, as a day laborer.  The last assistant, Father John Vrana, served from 1980 to 1983, when he died. He had been a faculty member at Villanova University for thirty years before serving in Waterford from 1971 to 1979, and retiring to Schaghticoke the next year. There were also cooks, housekeepers, and other servants for the priests for many years.

this photo of the church is from a c. 1950 postcard

this photo of the church is from a c. 1950 postcard

The continued growth of the Catholic community in Schaghticoke and in nearby Lansingburgh led to the establishment of a new parish in Speigletown in 1970. Originally parishioners constructed a basement, then a rectory atop it. Finally in 1974 the church of St. Bonaventure’s was completed. A large addition was dedicated in 1991. The founding pastor was Reverend James O’Neill.

Back in the village of Schaghticoke St. John’s Church added a major addition in 1988, during the pastorate of Father Richard Nahman. It has social space for dinners and religious education, plus rest rooms and a gathering space in front of the church entrance. Until then, the rectory had been used for religious education, as well as living space for the priest. Father Nahman was the last priest to live there. The next priest, Father Alfred Ellis, supervised renovation of the church interior, mostly volunteer work by the parishioners.  In 1997 the Augustinians turned the parish back to the Albany Diocese, and the rectory was sold about the same time.

All but the youngest residents of the town have seen the latest changes in the local Catholic community..  Ironically, in 2001, just ten years after the construction of the parish hall addition to St. John’s, it merged with Our Lady of Good Counsel of Valley Falls and St. Monica’s of Johnsonville, with the closure of the latter churches. The three churches together took the name of Church of the Holy Trinity. In 2010, Holy Trinity and St. Bonaventure’s in Speigletown merged their administrations, and while both churches are still open, they are served by one priest and other administrators. They are now called Church of the Transfiguration, North and South.

Bibliography:  Hart, Mary, letter, 1984.

Lohnes, Richard, Centennial Booklet of the Village of Schaghticoke, 1967.

150th Anniversary Booklet, Church of St. John the Baptist, 1992.

The Augustinians at St. John the Baptist and Our Lady of Good Counsel, 1997.

Sylvester, Nathaniel, History of Rensselaer County, 1880.

Letter, St. Bonaventure’s church.

Anderson, “Landmarks of Rensselaer County”

Federal and state census

The End is Here

No, I’m not predicting the end of the world,  but of the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War. The commemoration is almost over.  Of course the Civil War ended more or less with the surrender of General Robert E. Lee to General U.S. Grant on April 9, 1865. I have not written about the war, or our local regiment, the 125th NY Volunteer Infantry, since the fall. This is because after months of hard fighting and many, many casualties in spring 1864, the tempo of the war changed.  The Union Army was trying to take the Confederate capitol of Richmond, but failing in that, ended up in siege lines around Petersburg, the key Confederate transportation hub just to its south.

The Union Army spent the nine months from the battle of Cold Harbor in June 1864 to April 1865 in siege lines around Petersburg, but the Army didn’t just sit there waiting for spring.  Right at the beginning of that time, the 125th NY participated in a botched Union attempt to cut the Weldon Railroad, south of Petersburg and one of the life lines for the Confederates, on June 22, 1864. Several long-time officers died in the battle, and the regiment found it did not fight as before, with many new and inexperienced recruits. This was a shock to the old-timers.  In the wake of the hard spring campaign, the Union Army took stock of its men, and a number were discharged for illness or disability, including several officers of the 125th. They were just worn down by almost two years of fighting. Throughout the Army, regiments had become so small due to death, injury, and illness, that consolidation was necessary. Four regiments, including the 125th, were made into one, under the command of the Colonel of the 125th, Levin Crandell. This means that what had been 1000-man regiments now numbered 250 or less.

I have neglected Levin Crandell, who became Colonel of the 125th upon the death of George Willard on July 2, 1863 at Gettysburg. I need to tell you about him especially, as he was almost from Schaghticoke. Levin was born in 1826 in Easton. His parents were Otis and Eliza Crandell, of Rhode Island. The little hamlet still called Crandell’s Corners on Route 40 in Easton is named for them. His father bought a farm and the family moved to Milton in Saratoga County in 1836.  Mr. Crandell made sure Levin got a good education.  He was elected Captain of the local militia regiment when he reached 18, surely indicating a strong interest in the military.  He never served, however, as he moved to Troy in 1845, first working as a clerk in dry goods stores, then becoming the bookkeeper at the Central Bank of Troy in 1854. This was a prestigious and demanding job. The 1860 census showed him as a bookkeeper in Troy, aged 34, with wife Caroline, 30. In 1856 he joined the Troy Citizens’ Corps, one of the most prominent local militias, and the 24th Regiment, N.Y.S. Militia., a predecessor of the National Guard.  He was elected Colonel of the 24th when Joseph Bradford Carr became Colonel of the 2nd NY Regiment in 1861. The 2nd was the first regiment recruited in Rensselaer County for the Civil War.

Levin Crandell, second Colonel of the 125th

Levin Crandell, second Colonel of the 125th

When the 125th Regiment, the second Rensselaer County regiment, began recruiting in August, 1862, the Rensselaer County War Committee asked Levin to act as its Colonel. They expected George Willard to become Colonel in the end, – and Levin knew that- but were awaiting his transfer from the Regular Army. So Levin was the Colonel in charge with the tough job of training the new recruits, as Willard didn’t arrive until just before the Regiment left for the field.  At that point, the committee approached Levin again, first asking if he was consumptive- he was so thin- and having learned that he wasn’t, asked if he would become Lieutenant Colonel of the regiment. He did, and served in that position, stepping in to substitute for Willard as needed, until Willard died and Levin finally became Colonel in his own right.

Levin went on to lead the Regiment through many battles.  He was home recruiting during a couple of months in the winter and spring of 1864, but returned in time for the battle of North Anna in May. He was slightly wounded on several occasions, and hit in the face by a shell fragment on June 16, 1864, at the start of the Petersburg campaign. He stayed in service until that December, when he resigned. The Regimental History states that he was a “manly man,” “calm in battle,” and that he resigned “due to home conditions.”

By 1870, Levin lived in Brooklyn, where he was a dry goods merchant with real estate worth $18,000, and a personal estate of $10,000. He and wife Caroline had two Irish servants. She died at some point before 1878, when Levin married another woman named Carrie, who was twenty years younger than he.  The 1880 census showed them still in Brooklyn. He was 53, Carrie 33, and they had two children, Carrie, 8, and Albert, 6 months old. They had a second son later.

Colonel Crandell was very involved in the G.A.R., the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union veterans’ organization, a member of the post in Manhattan. He applied for a pension in 1891. Levin was very involved in the writing of the “Regimental History of the 125th,” and was present and active at the local reunions of the regiment. He and Carrie moved to Jamaica, Queens around 1900, when he retired from the dry goods business. He had a stroke and died in 1907 at age 80, and is buried in Cyprus Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Returning to Petersburg,   July 4, 1864 was the first time the soldiers had heard no gun fire for two long months, and many, many miles of walking and fighting. The 125th stayed in place until July 26th, then marched north, toward Richmond, as part of the 2nd Brigade. Some of General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry accompanied the infantry. It turned out their goal was to distract the Confederates from the detonation of a huge mine, designed to blow a hole in the Confederate defenses around Petersburg, leading to victory by the Union. The Confederates were distracted by the relatively small battle of Strawberry Plain, but the attack around the mine detonation on July 30 turned into a fiasco for the Union- a disaster for this big opportunity for the new colored troops to test their mettle. But that event, called the Battle of the Crater, has been much written about, and I am trying to focus on the 125th.

Shortly after returning from Strawberry Plain, on August 22, 1864, the 125th marched back south, again part of a Union attempt to cut the Weldon Railroad. This time the soldiers destroyed track for two days. The rails and ties were pulled up, the ties burned with the rails on top of the fire until they were hot enough to bend, rendering them unusable. The Confederates moved to attack, at what is now called the battle of Ream’s Station.  As Colonel Crandell was now in command of the larger unit, the brigade, which the 125th was part of, Captain Nelson Penfield commanded the regiment.  After two assaults and a lot of cannon shelling, the Union lines, filled with inexperienced recruits, gave way. In his history of the 125th, the regimental chaplain Ezra Simons is obviously humiliated by this retreat, but it occurred all along the line.  Captain Joseph Egolf, a veteran of the 2nd NY who reenlisted in the 125th, was badly wounded at this time and about ten men of the old 125th were among 2000 Union troops captured by the Confederates, spending the rest of the war in Libby Prison in Richmond.  The old camaraderie of the Regiment was gone, the men didn’t know each other anymore, with each passing day yet another old comrade left the ranks, one way or the other. Perhaps it was this change, more than “home conditions”, that led Colonel Crandell to resign his commission and go home in December of 1864. Chaplain Simon describes the Colonel in his last battle: “..in a fight lasting (all day)- he was in the saddle all the time, directing and inciting, except as he dismounted to creep up near the enemy to better determine their position.  Three times was he shot at while seeking to reach one of our men wounded at the extreme front of the fighting.” Not bad for a man of forty after two years of war.

Now both Armies settled in for the winter, about 150,000 men. For the Confederates, though they had enough munitions, the food supply was patchy. Many of their supply lines had been severed, either by the Army of the Potomac, or by Union victories in other theaters of operation. Men deserted and went home, especially when they found out that their homes had been invaded by Union armies. They needed to know what had happened to their property and families.

siege mortar at Petersburg

siege mortar at Petersburg

While the Union Army had plenty of food and supplies, they were still uncomfortably situated in siege lines. The battles of Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor had introduced the defensive advantages of trenches; now both Armies worked to build the best earthworks possible. The earthworks were trenches, tunnels, and bombproofs- designed to allow the minimum exposure possible to the enemy. Both sides fired mortars and howitzers at each other randomly day and night. When a soldier could hear that a mortar shell was going to land nearby, he would run for a bombproof, a shelter dug into the ground and covered with sandbags, to make it fulfill its name. Soldiers also built winter quarters. The correspondent for the Troy “Daily Times” in the 125th (H.S.- I’m not sure who he was) stated that the troops made “winter quarters” several times. They would just get settled, then be moved again, for reasons they never understood. Each time they would cut down the once-plentiful Southern pine and make 7’ x 11’ log cabins, with walls about five feet high, a small doorway, and a chimney. The roofs were of canvas, the heat source either a fireplace or a small cast iron stove. Four men lived in each cabin. They had adequate space only because two of them were usually on picket duty at any time.  Sometimes there was enough firewood and decent water to drink, sometimes not, but the newspaper correspondent seemed quite content.

But not all soldiers were “comfortable.” Some years ago, my mother came across the probate file of a soldier of the 16th NY Artillery, also besieging Petersburg. Lyman Brimmer of Troy had named his sister as his heir in his will, which his father contested. In the file was a letter he wrote home to his sister on September 12, 1864. I have corrected the spelling. “We are now right in front of Petersburgh, one mile from it. The shot and shell fly over my head every day as thick as hail stone and if you raise your head above the parapet, a small ball will take it. There is men killed and wounded every day. I have been out on picket five days. I got in last night. I have to lay on the ground with my rubber blanket over me rain or shine. …My hand trembles so I can hardly write.”  Lyman didn’t add that the trembling hand was because he had had fever and ague for a month. On October 7, he was shot “in the bowels,” and the doctor told him he could not live. A fellow soldier reported, “He appeared to be suffering great pain, hollering all the time.” Thankfully, he died that night and was buried.  The story has even a sadder end. Though his sister won the probate fight, the legal costs ate up most of the inheritance. And Lyman was a Union soldier, living in better conditions than the Confederates, before winter chill had really set in. So I guess the conditions depended upon the unit, the situation of the camp, and the original health of the soldier.

reconstruction of siege lines at Petersburg.

reconstruction of siege lines at Petersburg.

reconstruction of siege lines at Petersburg

reconstruction of siege lines at Petersburg

While the Confederate headquarters was naturally in Petersburg, the besieged city, the Union Army under General Grant built an extensive headquarters at City Point, on the James River to the northeast of Petersburg and southeast of Richmond.  During February, Grant extended the Union lines westward, around the southern side of Petersburg. His Army now numbered 110,000, while the Confederate Army was reduced by desertion to 60,000. In March, General Lee made a last attempt to break the Union line at Fort Steadman, one of the closest Union strongpoints to City Point. The Rebels were initially successful, but the Troy “Times” reported that the Rebels began looting food and equipment as soon as they entered the fort, so that the Union was able to retake it quite quickly, the Rebels then surrendering.”

NPS sign with illustration of Fort Steadman

NPS sign with illustration of Fort Steadman

Meanwhile the other Rensselaer County regiment, the 169th Volunteer Infantry, was in North Carolina.  In Mid-January they had participated in the amphibious Union attack that captured Fort Fisher and closed the last Confederate port, Wilmington, North Carolina.  From there they were in the force that captured Wilmington itself in mid-February.  The war ended in that region when General Joe Johnston’s Confederate Army surrendered to General William T. Sherman and his Union forces on April 16, 1865. The 169th was part of the garrison that stayed in Wilmington. They were mustered out there on July 19, 1865.

Returning to our other local boys, the 125th broke camp at Petersburg on March 29, 1865, and marched westward around the southern end of the siege lines. The Confederate loss at Fort Steadman had gotten everything moving. The 125th’s new Colonel was Joseph Hyde. The 125th was part of the final Union push, which forced the Confederates to abandon their trenches in Petersburg and try to escape westward.  In the Regimental History, Chaplain Simons describes some days of on and off advances, with pauses to entrench, intermittent fighting, and walking on.  By April 2, after the tired soldiers he was with were able to force Confederates to abandon good fortifications with ease, Simons writes that the men began to realize that the end of the war was near.

They heard of the surrender of Petersburg, and of victories elsewhere. The Confederates were running in disorder, abandoning equipment, or surrendering. Walking west about thirty miles over the next four days, the 125th was in the reserve at the battle of Sailor’s Creek on April 6, though Simons says they captured the supply wagons of the retreating Confederates. This was the last real battle for the Army of the Potomac. Sailor’s Creek is about 45 miles east of Appomattox Court House. There was more fighting on the 7th and 8th, though on the 8th Simons says the men knew that a letter had passed among the generals of the opposing armies. We can only imagine the excitement and anticipation among the men. The 125th marched some more on the morning of the 9th, but paused at noon. According to the National Park Service Ranger at Appomattox Court House, they were about two miles northeast of that hamlet.  Appomattox Court House was and is the name of a small settlement, not of a building. The whole settlement is now a National Park Service site, with the small, more modern town of Appomattox about a mile away.

the courthouse at the hamlet of Appomattox Courthouse

the courthouse at the hamlet of Appomattox Courthouse

Meanwhile the newspapers at home were following developments very closely. On April 7 it was falsely reported nationally that Lee had surrendered. Celebrations began immediately in Troy, and probably everywhere, with disappointment following. News of the real surrender, on April 9, was reported almost as it happened to the waiting populace of the North.

McClean home, site of Lee's surrender. In the hamlet of Appomattox Court House

McClean home, site of Lee’s surrender. In the hamlet of Appomattox Court House

Chaplain Simons wrote of that day,” We could scarcely believe the rumors that came to us of the surrender by General Lee of the rebel army; but about four o’clock the glad news was given that it was really true….Soon General Meade himself rode along the line, with head uncovered, and such cheers as went up to the skies we never heard before, lasting over an hour without any interruption.  Thus, with cheers, and waving banners, and also with booming cannon and playing bands, was greeted this greatest triumph of the war.  …the 9th of April, 1865 will always be remembered by our men…The writer has seen ..that General Grant ordered that there should be no demonstrations of joy; but, if the orders were delivered, they came too late to prevent the spontaneous expression of gladness just described.”

The 125th marched from Appomattox to Burksville, Virginia on April 13. There they heard of the assassination of Lincoln. At the end of April, they headed north, marching via Richmond and Fredericksburg to Arlington Heights, opposition Washington. They participated in the Grand Review on May 23, 1865 when 80,000 men of the Army of the Potomac marched through Washington, D.C., then left for home on June 5. Finally, they were on a train, rather than walking. They reached New York on the 7th of June. Word of this arrival was telegraphed to anxious relatives and friends in Troy.

On June 8th the Troy “Daily Times” reported in detail the fiasco of their arrival home. People assumed they would be on the “night boat”- the overnight steamship from New York to Troy, and hundreds thronged the dock at 5 a.m. When the “Rip VanWinkle” arrived, the soldiers were not on it. The crowd immediately assumed they were on the train and ran across town to the train station. When the Montreal express arrived, there were still no soldiers. At this point the Captain of the “Rip” reported the men were still at Castle Garden in New York. Apparently commercial steamships were reluctant to transport the regiments as the soldiers got drunk and rowdy (what a shock!) Finally word came that the regiment was on a hired steamship. They arrived in Albany about 11 a.m. and would be marching for home on the Troy Road- up the west side of the Hudson.  The trip up the Hudson was about  8-9 hours, so they must have left about 3 a.m. The West Troy ferry generously agreed to carry them gratis across the river.

Meanwhile feverish preparations were being made to greet them at Washington Square, where the Soldiers and Sailors Monument is in downtown Troy- at the corner of River, Broadway, 2nd, and 1st Streets. A grandstand was built, the alarm of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church sounded, citizens began to hang flags on their houses, Congressman John Griswold got ready to speak, the 24th NY National Guard Regiment made ready to meet them.   Once the men got to Troy, they went to the Armory to have a bite to eat- having had no food since the afternoon before- Evidently the newspaperman was surprised to see only 200 men. At first he explained that some had gone right home, but later in the article realized that the original 1000 man regiment numbered only 214 at this point. Finally 3 p.m. was named as the time of ceremonies.  After the speeches, they were entertained at Harmony Hall, and returned to camp “on the Albany Road”. They were finally paid off on June 15 and mustered out of service.

There are some of the final records of the 125th in the archives of the Rensselaer County Historical Society.  Lt. George Petit prepared the final inventories of the equipment of each of the Companies. Of the original 100 men, he listed just 27 in one inventory of Company K, the “Schaghticoke boys,” and only fourteen in another taken in May, 1865.  I think that the longer list included men who returned in mid-April from imprisonment, hospitalization, and service with detached units, just to be discharged with their original company, plus a few newer recruits. Petit was trying to collect the government’s equipment, but obviously having a hard time.   All but two of the fourteen turned in Springfield muskets, though many were missing parts of the repair kits that accompanied each gun. Most men had haversacks and their half of a tent (two halves were put together to make a whole tent for two men), but no one had a camp kettle or mess pan, and quite a few marks for individual items are crossed out later. Of about 75 men in the original Company K who were from Schaghticoke, seventeen were discharged in June 1865. Others had survived but had changed units, been dismissed for disability earlier, or deserted sometime along the way.

Now the rest of their lives began for the veterans and their families. Nationwide, about 3,500,000 men had served in the war. About 600,000-800,000 had died from various causes. One in thirteen veterans were amputees. Just for comparison’s sake, about 400,000 American soldiers died in World War II.   As with veterans today, some men were improved by their service, some physically and mentally handicapped for life. We are still feeling the political repercussions of the war.

Reading the Troy newspaper just after the war, I am struck by the way the veterans stuck together, right from the start. The paper is full of notices of meetings of the veterans of the 125th to organize attendance at funerals of their fellow soldiers, of men going to call on fellow veterans who were ailing. The official organization of Civil War Veterans, the Grand Army of the Republic, was organized in 1866, but the 125th NY Regimental Association was also active right from the start. There were lots of veterans. I feel at first they wanted to maintain their brotherhood, then to help each other. As time went on, they also flexed considerable political muscle, and erected many monuments to their service, all over the country.

G.A.R. post Hartshorn in Schaghticoke, c. 1910

G.A.R. post Hartshorn in Schaghticoke, c. 1910

The sources of information for this article were primarily Ezra Simon’s History of the 125th,
the Troy “Daily Times”, and National Park Service materials on Petersburg and Appomattox Court House.

Back to the Civil War: Fort Fisher and the Schaghticoke Connection.

I know some of you are ready to be done with my writing about the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War. I assure you that the Union and the Confederacy were more than ready for the war to be over by the end of 1864. General Grant and the Army of the Potomac were entrenched around Petersburg, Virginia, in the midst of what would end up as a nine-month siege. General Sherman had finished his “March to the Sea,” reaching Savannah, Georgia. The key ports of supply for the Confederate States had been cut off one by one by the Union. The only one left was up the Cape Fear River to Wilmington, North Carolina, protected by Fort Fisher.

fort-fisher-comstock

fortfisher 1

Fort Fisher was constructed at the start of the Civil War to protect the Cape Fear River and Wilmington, North Carolina from the Union Navy. The river provided access for blockade runners, which brought vital supplies to the Confederacy. Unlike many forts, Fort Fisher was never designed to be architecturally impressive. It was pragmatically built of dirt, to absorb artillery fire. Finally, in December, 1864, the Union Army- an expeditionary force from the Army of the James- and Navy- a squadron commanded by Admiral David Porter- attacked the fort. The first attack, with the Army commanded by General Benjamin Butler, failed, but in January, 1865, now commanded by General Alfred Terry, they tried again. 56 Union ships bombarded the fort, and 8000 troops, some from the 169th NY Infantry Regiment, were landed. The 169th NY Infantry Regiment was the final regiment recruited in Rensselaer County.  The fort surrendered at night on January 15. About a dozen Union soldiers received the Medal of Honor for valor in the battle, including one man from Troy.  The closure of the Cape Fear River sealed the fate of the Confederacy. It was now just a matter of time.

fort fisher

On January 16, the fort’s ammunition magazine exploded, killing 200 men on both sides. Controversy has swirled around the explosion ever since, with the Union saying that the Confederates booby-trapped the magazine and the Confederates saying the carousing Union victors were careless.  A diligent researcher named Steve Wiezbicki feels it was deliberately exploded by the Confederates

Four members of a Pittstown family were in Company C of the 169th NY Infantry at Fort Fisher: Herman L. Martinett, age 28, his brother John S., age 34, his brother Charles F, age 40, and Charles’ son Frederick, age 18. Thanks to Mr Wiezbicki, I know that Frederick was killed in the explosion of the ammunition magazine.  In addition a local blacksmith named John Bradley was in Company D of the 169th. He lived in Stillwater after the war, where he died in 1913.

I can claim Herman Martinett for Schaghticoke as he lived in the village at the end of his life and is buried at Elmwood Cemetery. There were actually four Martinett brothers, who moved to Pittstown from Pennsylvania about 1850. They were in the axe business. Herman and his oldest brother, Charles, enlisted in the 169th when it formed at the end of 1862. Herman recruited his other brother, John, and nephew, Frederick, on a trip home in January 1864. After the war, Herman came back home. He and his family moved from Valley Falls to the village of Schaghticoke in 1900. He was still working as an axe polisher at the time of his death in 1903. His second wife, Mary survived until 1938.

My husband and I happened upon Fort Fisher, trying a different route from home to Savannah, Georgia, knowing its importance in the war but not its connection to Rensselaer County. The little town on the peninsula just north of the fort is Kure Beach.  We enjoyed touring the fort, a North Carolina Historic Site, and its wonderful museum. Much of Fort Fisher has been washed away by the tides over the years, but the museum has a great collection of items found through underwater archeology, from the fort and from sunken blockade runners.  We were delighted to find a case in the museum featuring the photo of a Troy man, William Freeman, and the Medal of Honor he won in the battle. We recommend a trip to Kure Beach, North Carolina- a beautiful and quiet town, with both Fort Fisher and a North Carolina State Aquarium plus a gorgeous beach.

fortfisher2

The sources of information for this column include the NYS and US census, NYS Civil War records, Civil War pension index, and records of Elmwood Cemetery, plus the newsletter about the 169th by Steve Wiezbicki, and online articles about Fort Fisher.

Schools in the town of Schaghticoke: founding through 1880Sylv

Over the years I have written about settlement of the town of Schaghticoke, Native Americans, early European immigrants, churches, and industry. It’s time to talk about schools.

New York State has provided monetary support for schools since it enacted its first public education law in 1795. Early records of the town of Schaghticoke note the appointment of school commissioners in 1796. They also recorded the “school aid” that was received from the state: 99 pounds in 1797, with 44 pounds from town taxes; 88 pounds in 1798 with the same 44 pounds from the town.  But Schaghticoke had been settled by European immigrants for almost 100 years at that point, and we have no real information about schools during that colonial period. Sylvester’s History of Rensselaer County assumes that there must have been earlier schools, perhaps conducted under the auspices of the Dutch Reformed Church.

I have just found two mentions of schools before 1800 so far. In the Minutes of the Albany Common Council, published in the “Collection on the History of Albany,” Vol. 1, the schoolmaster at Schaghticoke applied for a piece of woodland in 1762. The Common Council granted this as long as he remained schoolmaster and exhibited good behavior. The other mention was in the will of Andreas Weatherwax, who died in 1780.  One of the witnesses was “John Clints, schoolmaster.” Where was he a teacher?At the time there was a group of well-educated men in town as they formed the Schaghticoke Polemic Sociey, a young men’s debating society, in 1797. They met weekly and debated politics, the nature of man, religion, and other weighty matters. The group continued until at least 1820.  Its records are in the New York Historical Society, and once I get there to see them, I will tell you more about the group. We also know that Herman Knickerbocker, born in 1779, a son of privilege, was at the upper end of the range of education: he studied and became a lawyer by apprenticing in a law office in Albany.

Some 18th century immigrants into town were well educated: Ann Eliza Bleecker was a novelist; Colonel Peter Yates wrote eloquent letters to the governor; Dutch Reformed minister Lambertus DeRonde wrote and spoke English, Dutch, and Latin.   But Solomon Acker, who came to Schaghticoke in time to serve as a soldier in the 14th Albany County Militia in the Revolution, signed his pension papers in 1832 with an X, as did fellow soldier Richard Davenport, and the widow of another soldier, Anny Overocker. I know from reading the earliest wills from residents in the Rensselaer County records, (which means they are all from after 1790), that some of the relatives of the dead had lovely signatures, but some signed with an X, indicating illiteracy.  Many times, the males could sign their names, while the women used an X- perhaps indicating that boys had a greater opportunity for education than girls. Of course we don’t know how literate the men were beyond the ability to sign their names.

As I said in the first paragraph, NYS began to support public education in 1795. The universal public education law of 1812 established “common schools”  for all children from age 5 to 21, grades K-8. Under the law, the towns managed schools within their borders. There were two town wide positions: school commissioner and school inspector. At least in the early years, these office holders were among the elite of the town.  They included Josiah Masters, Harmon Knickerbocker, and Job Pierson, all of whom went on to become US Congressmen., and various VanVeghtens,  Knickerbockers, Yates, and Groesbecks, descendants of original settlers of the town, plus well-off and/or educated newcomers like Ezekiel Baker, who was both a doctor and a lawyer.

Troy Female Seminary, later Emma Willard School

Troy Female Seminary, later Emma Willard School

One 19th century non-public school option for girls was the Troy Female Seminary, founded in Waterford by Emma Hart Willard in 1819 and later moved to Troy. I know that the daughters of Herman Knickerbacker, Bethel Mather, prominent local farmer, and Amos Briggs, major 19th century industrialist of the village, attended the school in the 1820’s and ‘30’s. Although I also know that a couple of sons of Congressman Josiah Masters attended a private boys’ school about the same time, and that other sons of wealthy or well-educated fathers probably did as well.  I don’t know which one.

Sylvester’s History reports that the town school commissioners divided Schaghticoke into eleven districts in 1813, following the passage of the common school law the year before.  Districts 1-4 went from the northeast corner of the town, up by Hoosick, west to the Hudson River. District 4 extended south on the Hudson to where the Hoosick River entered the Hudson. District 5 was south of District 3 and east of 4, which extended south farther than No. 3.  No. 6 adjoined 5 to the east.  District 7 was along the Hudson River, and 8 south of that on the Hudson, extending to the Deep Kill. District 9 was in the southeast part of town, near Pittstown and Brunswick. No. 10 was south of the Deep Kill. District 11 began south of the Hoosick River at the “Big Falls”- presumably the falls at the village of Schaghticoke. More districts were added over time. When Lansingburgh annexed the part of the town south of the Deepkill in 1819, that part of town formed school district 3 in Lansingburgh.

The town’s extant school records begin in 1839. The pages are headed “Commissioners of Common Schools in account with the Town of Schaghticoke.”  Tables record the number of children, teacher money and library money for each district in the town, along with the name of the trustee for each district who received the funds.  The Commissioner and Inspectors of Schools were either elected or appointed by the Town Supervisor yearly. The Commissioner appointed the Trustees of the individual districts.  Of course at this point, the southern boundary of the town was the Deepkill, at Grant’s Hollow, so the records do not include Speigletown and Pleasantdale. Half of the funding for the schools came from the county, half was raised in town, from taxation based on property assessment. For example, in 1839, the town and the county each contributed about $415 to the support of the schools. There were 939 students in 17 districts. The county money was apportioned based on the number of students in each district, from $9.57 to district 13 with its 11 students to $166.90 to district 6 with its 191 students. Each district had a one-room school house, built by the residents of the district, probably through contributions of money, materials, and work on construction.

The 1840 U.S. census records the numbers of schools in town, though it differs a bit in its totals of schools and pupils. It also reports that there were only six illiterate people in the town. That seems to me to be an amazingly small number. I would have thought that some of the elderly would have been illiterate, but the six illiterates were in families with Irish surnames, indicating they were probably immigrants. By the 1850 census, when many more Irish immigrants had come to town, there were 55 illiterates. All were born in Ireland except for three English and five blacks. This indicates great success for the common school law in producing at least basic literacy in the population.

Returning to the town’s school records, they also record the names of trustees each year. Interestingly, the names vary greatly from year to year. 1839’s list is almost totally different from that in 1840. Also, one of the trustees, Nicholas Groesbeck, apparently was illiterate, signing his name with an X. Many of the names are familiar to me as prominent residents of the community, including representatives from the founding families like Groesbeck, Abraham Knickerbocker, Derick VanVeghten, and Cornelius Vandenburgh; and new and prosperous industrialists and farmers like Isaac T. Grant, founder of the mills in Grant’s Hollow; William Baucus, of Melrose, Ezra Bryan, of the Bryan District on River Road, and William Pitt Button, of Buttermilk Falls Road.

From 1845-1856, the state instituted a system where town superintendents of common schools were elected, first yearly, then biennially. The first elected superintendents were Merritt M. Wickes, Peter Wetsel, D. Bryan Baker, and Stephen Kenyon, yearly; and Henry N. Wales, Solomon VanRensselaer Miller, and Daniel Groesbeck.  In the 1850 census, Wickes is listed as a  40 year-old merchant with no wife or children; Wetsel was a fairly well-off farmer, with no wife and three children; Kenyon was a 27-year-old postmaster, living in the family of Isaac Hornbrook, a young dentist; Wales was a 42-year old lawyer with a wife and four young children; Miller was a 35-year-old farmer with a wife and one child, and Groesbeck was a 30 year old farm laborer living in the family of Jacob Fort, a wealthy farmer. Baker died in 1847 at age 25, the year after he served.  What a wide variety of backgrounds! I can’t draw any conclusions about who would run for that job or why from that list.

Every year the records include notes where individuals petitioned to have their properties transferred from one district to another. This was important, as school revenues depended on the taxes paid by residents, and of course children had to attend the school in the district where they lived. Apparently an effort was made to make the districts equal in number of children and amount of assessed valuation. Another concern was that the children be able to walk to school relatively easily.

In 1845, the records have a list of “Local Names of School Districts.”  These are clearly based on what was common knowledge at the time, but a few are rather impenetrable to us now. The list includes the town in which the school house was located, as a number were actually not in the town of Schaghticoke. District 1, called Cotrells, and District 2, called Burch’s, were in Cambridge, at the northeast part of the town. District 3, called Masters, District 4, “Valley”, and District 5, Buckley’s, were all in Schaghticoke, and evidently came down what is Masters Street toward the village of Schaghticoke. District 6, “the Point north district”, must have been at the northern edge of the village, called “Schaghticoke Point”, or “the Point.” District 7 was “Stillwater”, though listed in the town, and must have been over toward the Hudson. District 8, “Old Schaghticoke”, would have been near the Knickerbocker Mansion. District 9 was called “Borough.” I do not know that reference. District 10 was “Grants”, I’ll assume in Grant’s Hollow. District 11 was called “Hill”, presumably Schaghticoke Hill. District 12 was “Wetsels, Northern Turnpike” and listed in the town of Pittstown.  District 13 was “Powder Mills”, in Pittstown. This is confusing, as I thought the mills were still on the Tomhannock Creek in 1845. Maybe this is evidence that they had at least partially moved earlier.  District 14 was “Bryans”. The Bryans lived on River Road, near where Allen Road joins it. District 15 was “New Turnpike, Hayner”. This could refer to the northern end of the modern  New Turnpike Road, though it wasn’t in the town at the time. District 16 was “Point south”, back in the village of Schaghticoke. District 17 was “Pine woods”. I live off of Pine Woods Road in Melrose. I am surprised the name was used so early, and wonder if the large white pines in between Riley and Roe Roads are a remnant of that woods.

The rest of the list was added later, as new districts were created. District 18 was “New Tavern”, District 19 “C. Vandenburgh”, and District 20 “Devols”. I do not know those locations. District 21 was “Middle district, Point,” a third district in the village of Schaghticoke.  The very next pages in the school records describes creation of a new district, number 18, from parts of districts 9,10,and 15 in Schaghticoke and district 3 in Lansingburgh,  in the southern part of town,  and number 19, from part of district 7, in the northwest part of town.  There was quite a controversy about district 19. District 7 had only had 40 possible pupils to begin with, but the record states that because of bad roads and long distances to walk, only half the students were able to go to school. The new district would be small, but all of the children would be able to attend the closer school.   District 20 was created from parts of districts 5 and 14 in 1850.

Schoolhouse at Schaghticoke Hill.

Schoolhouse at Schaghticoke Hill.

another shot of the school at Schaghticoke Hill. In this one the cemetery next door is visible.

another shot of the school at Schaghticoke Hill. In this one the cemetery next door is visible.

In my files is a list of “Schools that became part of the Hoosic Valley Central School”, compiled by long-time teacher, the late Ann Hurley, in 1988 for the 50th anniversary of the district. Ann listed the location of the schoolhouses in each district.  District 1 schoolhouse was at the north end of School Street in the village of Schaghticoke. District 2 school was on the west side of the junction of Stillwater Bridge Road with Brown Road. District 3 school was at the south side of the junction of Master Street with Ridge Road. District 4 was in the village. District 5 school was at the south side of the junction of Hayes and Bell Roads. Mrs. Hurley’s notes for District 6 state “Dorr-Barton-Mead; brick building overgrown with trees.” The Mead farm is up Barton Road, but unlike the others, the school house does not appear on the 1877 Beers Atlas. District 7 school was on the south side of Stillwater Bridge Road, just before the intersection with Bevis Road. District 8 is now the Williams home on Pinewoods Road in Melrose. District 10 school is now a home on the north side of Mineral Springs Road. District 9 school was on the south side of Hansen Road, west of the intersection with Sliter Road. District 12 school was on the west side of Valley Falls Road, north of the junction with Madigan Road. District 14 is the brick building at the north side of the big bend in Verbeck Avenue to the west. Mrs. Hurley did not mention it, but I believe she taught in the District 9 school, which was at the intersection of River and Allen Roads. And there was a school house on the east side of Route 40 at Schaghticoke Hill, just north of the Kingsley Arms apartments.  The 1877 Beers Atlas also shows a school house on the west side of River Road, just north of the intersection of Riley Road. The school house in Speigletown is currently a dentist’s office, on the east side of Route 40, just south of the intersection with Eastover Road. It was in use as a kindergarten in the Lansingburgh School district up until 1964. Of all these schools, just three or four survive. Of course the school at the corner of Route 67 and River Road in Hemstreet Park also survives, but that is a later building and was not part of the Hoosic Valley District.

1845 schoolhouse on Verbeck Avenue

1845 schoolhouse on Verbeck Avenue

Also in my files, I have a history of district 14, on Verbeck Avenue, written by Warren Verbeck, who owned the school house until his recent death. He stated that the first school meeting was held January 15, 1824. Peter VanAntwerp, Seth Bryan, Peter Ackert, Propwell? Curtis, and Benjamin Ketcham? were elected to the board of directors. I know that VanAntwerp, Bryan, and Ackert were farmers who lived in that part of town. I don’t know about the others.  A wooden school house was erected.  The current brick building was built for $355 around 1845.  Mr Verbeck stated that Chester Arthur taught in the original wooden building. If that is true, it must have taken a while to build the brick school, since we know he taught from 1846-1848. Several of Mr. Verbeck’s relatives served as district clerk or trustee through the 19th century. Teacher’s salaries varied from $90-$206 for 34-36 weeks of teaching. In 1919, the trustees voted to close the school. The building was used for community functions for quite a few years after that.

Returning to the story of all the schools in town, we are used to school costs constantly rising, but in 1849, the amount distributed to the schools was actually $150 lower than in 1839, dropping to just under $700, though the number of students remained unchanged at just under 950.The money jumped way up in 1850, to over $1000, with well over half the amount coming from the county. Something happened in the next couple of years to the school population as well. In 1852 there were 1375 students in 20 districts, and the total money was $1320. All but one district showed a big jump in population over 1849. Through all the years, district 6, in the village of Schaghticoke, was much larger than the others. By 1853 in had 391 pupils, and was divided into two districts. By 1874, the total number of students in town had dropped to 1165. A couple of years earlier, one Schaghticoke district was consolidated with a Pittstown district and came under the purview of Pittstown, accounting for a bit of the change. Another possible cause could be the closing of a major cotton mill during the Civil War. Numbers of children in each district varied widely, for example, from 16 in district 2 to 185 in district 16.  Beginning about 1860, the amount of money paid to the schools began to be determined in part by the average daily attendance, just as it is now. There must have been a new state-wide law.

New York State enacted the Union Free School law in 1853. Under this law, common schools could organize to create secondary schools for their students. Before that time, just a few students would have the opportunity to go beyond an elementary school education, in private schools located around the area. The 1840 U.S. Census had a column for “scholars”, presumably students in college. There were none in Schaghticoke in that year, though I know that there were well-off students who attended college, for example John T. Masters, son of Nicholas Masters, graduated from Union College in 1839. His father was also a graduate.

Twenty years later, at the end of 1874, voters from districts 1, 4, and 16, located in the village of Schaghticoke, decided to consolidate, form a new district, and build a new, graded Union school on what is now called School Street. Their sole trustees petitioned the town and county on behalf of the voters to consolidate and create the graded school. They were Sidney S. Congdon, an insurance agent; Charles Albro, a tin smith and recent arrival to town; and Michael McGrath, who ran a hotel on South Main Street, in the house at the southwest end of the bridge. There were over 400 children in the three districts, certainly plenty. The building was finished by August 1876 at a cost of $12,633. McGrath continued as a trustee, joined by Lorenzo Baker, C.C. Hill, and Abram Myers.  Baker was a clothing merchant and Hill a shirt manufacturer in the village. Myers a young farmer,  lived where Brocks do today, across Electric Lake.

According to Sylvester’s “History of Rensselaer County,” the first teachers in the new school were Misses Florence Ogden, Lizzie Gunner, Clara Richmond, and Lottie Munger, and Professor Ira H. Lawton, from 1876-1877, followed by G. W. Gillett, from 1877-1879.. An historical chart of “Schaghticoke Schools” made in 1906 adds Mary Button, Martha Calkins, Sarah Mott, Mary Ackart, Lizzie C. Smith, and Hattie Deming.  In the 1875 NYS Census, I found that Ira Lawton was a druggist in Brunswick.  So he may have begun a new career here. He was gone from Schaghticoke by 1880, and a principal of a school in Rockland County in 1910. Lizzie Gunner was the daughter of local baker Richard Gunner, and just 18 years old in 1880. Miss Munger was probably Charlotte, daughter of local market gardener Morgan Munger. George Gillett, aged 30, had moved on to teach school in Saratoga Springs by 1880. Hattie Deming was from a family in Stillwater. The others I haven’t found in the records as yet.

first Union Free School, 1876, on School Street, village of Schaghticoke. burned in 1895.

first Union Free School, 1876, on School Street, village of Schaghticoke. burned in 1895.

Unfortunately, the new school building was destroyed by fire in February 1895. A new Union Free School was swiftly completed, open for business by March 1896, at a cost of $16,400. The principal was C.W. Dunn, with teachers Misses Delia Barrows, Helen Story, Lizzie Smith, Matie Ackart, and Clara Thompson. In the 1900 census, I found Delia Barrows, 30 year old daughter of Robert and Mary, living with her parents in Canton, NY and working as a school teacher. Clara Thompson was the 27 year old daughter of Samuel and Rose Thompson of Schaghticoke. Samuel was a carpenter and Clara a teacher. They were still a family in the village in 1905. I also found Lizzie A. Smith, age 40, a vocal music teacher living in a rooming house in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 1900. So again the teachers were a mixture of local and imported people, as is true today.

new Union Free School, built in just a few months from 1895-1896

new Union Free School, built in just a few months from 1895-1896

Let’s go back and look at what the schools were like for parents, students, and teachers.  Children could go to the public school from ages 4 to 21.  The 1850 census, the first to list the names of all family members, also notes if a child went to school in the past year, though it doesn’t say for how long. Most children from age 4 or 5 to about 15 attended school, though many boys were working by age 15 or 16.  Just a few attended school as old as 18 or 19. I’m sure it depended on the need of the family for income.

How long was the school year? Theoretically, children could go to school for nine months, as now. But children who were also working on the farm, or working in a mill, would not go that long. In records of a school in rural Guilderland, Albany County, in 1875, I found that virtually no boy over 10 attended the spring term, when farms would be busy, though their sisters did. In the Schaghticoke records, there is a note that school in district 16, with 148 students, was taught less than six months.  Beginning in 1880, the number of children from 5 to 21 years of age in each district is given, along with the average daily attendance. Shockingly to us today, though the number of children in district 1, the village consolidated district, was 548 , average daily attendance was just over 162, or just about 30%. The next year, the district had 552 children, with average daily attendance up to 225, much better. But other districts in town still had very low attendance. District 13, with just eight children, had just 2 or 3 students attend daily.

From what I have seen in various sources, during the 19th century, children went to school during the winter months, with pupils from age 4 or 5 to 18 all in the same room. All of the schools in Schaghticoke would have been like this until the construction of the Union Free School, a graded school,  in the village of Schaghticoke in 1874.The earliest teachers were young males, and sometimes had not much more education than their students. They made very little money, and lived with the family of one of their pupils. Often teaching was a job for a young man on the way to something better.  The most famous teacher in all of Schaghticoke history was Chester A. Arthur, who taught school in the Verbeck Avenue  during his winter vacations of 1846 and 1847, while he was a student at Union College in Schenectady, and the fall after he graduated in 1848, for $15 per month. Of course he went on to be President of the United States. I will write more extensively about him at another time.

Chester A. Arthur taught at the Verbeck Avenue school during vacations from Union College

Chester A. Arthur taught at the Verbeck Avenue school during vacations from Union College

Sylvester’s 1880 “History of Rensselaer County” quotes an “aged resident” Nicholas Bratt, who moved to the Masters street area in 1790 at age 12. He stated that James Mallory was his teacher, along with a woman who was “a widow who had never married.”  James Mallory was a surveyor in the county, whom I know because he made the earliest map of the village of Schaghticoke about 1825. I would that the woman could have been a spinster who was called “Mrs” as a term of respect. I had colleagues when I taught who were called “Mrs” though unmarried, partly because children were used to calling older women “Mrs.” I’m interested that Nicholas had a woman teacher at that early date.

In summer 2014, the tombstone of Abel Spalding Read was unearthed in the rebuilding of the bridge over the Hoosic River on Route 40. This prompted me to research him. He was born in Massachusetts in 1798, moved to town by 1815, and was listed as a school teacher from at least 1830 to 1850. He’s the first career teacher I know of in town, and breaks the mold of teachers as young men. I would love to know more about where he taught, and if he went beyond being the teacher in the one-room school. While there must have been at least twenty teachers in town in 1850, only Abel Read and one other, Henry Keefer, age 24, were captured by the federal census that year, further indication of the temporary nature of the profession. Henry still lived in town in 1855, when the census listed him as a student. He may have been in the mold of Arthur, attending college and teaching at the same time.

tombstone of Abel Read, part of DiFranzo's front walk. He was a teacher in town for at least twenty years.

tombstone of Abel Read, part of DiFranzo’s front walk. He was a teacher in town for at least twenty years.

According to a PBS article on schools, women began to teach by about 1840.  As the population and the demand for teachers grew, there were just not enough men teachers available. As the following quote shows, there were a couple of motivations for hiring women: “God seems to have made woman peculiarly suited to guide and develop the infant mind, and it seems…very poor policy to pay a man 20 or 22 dollars a month, for teaching children the ABCs, when a female could do the work more successfully at one third of the price.”  This is a quote from the Littleton School Committee, Littleton, Massachusetts, 1849. One of those woman teachers was Susan B. Anthony, future woman’s rights leader, who taught school in the Greenwich area as a teenager. In general, girls went from finishing school at 16 or 17 to teaching the same children a year later. They could face a room of up to 60 children of all ages and behaviors. They usually just taught for a couple of years, until marrying. In fact for many years marriage disqualified women from teaching. In the 1970’s I taught with an older woman who concealed her marriage from her supervisor for a couple of years, until it became accepted for her to be a married teacher.

students at the Melrose school, c. 1901. Just one teacher??

students at the Melrose school, c. 1901. Just one teacher??

The 1855 NYS Census lists five teachers in Schaghticoke, four female, one male, a great confirmation of the preceding paragraph.  The females were Celia Baucus, 21, who lived in the family of Michael Overocker; Mary Wilson, 20, who lived in the family of Lewis Buffett; Emily Gordon, 20, who lived with her widowed mother; and Sarah Harwood, 39, who lived in the family of Edwin Smith. I feel Sarah was a widow. The man was L.T. Hardy, born in Connecticut, who lived in Walter Groesbeck’s tavern. Five years later a L.S. Hardy, now with a wife and infant, was principal of the Union School in Brutus, Cayuga County, New York. This may be the same man. If so, Hardy had stayed in the profession, but advanced to administration.

What did children learn in the mid-19th century schoolhouse? The curriculum was very basic: reading, writing, simple arithmetic, and a bit of geography and history, plus elocution or public speaking, and morals. Most used Noah Webster’s “Blue Backed Speller,” first published in 1783, and McGuffey’s Reader, first published about 1840. Webster was interested in differentiating American from British spelling. McGuffey’s Reader includes simple stories. The goal was basic literacy, to have a populace qualified to vote. As immigrants came to town, they would be “Americanized” by the schools. As the 1800’s went on, classes in art, music, and science were added. By the time the Union Free School law was enacted in 1874, school reform was really under way. There was a recognition that students needed a much better education to succeed in an increasingly complex society. And as the 20th century approached, teachers were better educated, more and better classes were added, and school became more like something we would recognize today.

I’m sure that many readers are saying to themselves, “Where is the information about the schools when I attended them?” I know there is much more to the history of what became the Hoosic Valley Central Schools. I am stopping here for now, as I am trying to write this week-by-week history of the town chronologically, and I’m getting ahead of myself as it is. Also, I have much more work to do on the rest of the story: examining how the centralization happened, doing oral history projects with residents who attended the last one-room-schools and transitioned to the central school, etc. Some of this work was done for the 50th anniversary of the district in 1988. If YOU have photos of one-room schools and their classes, I would love to copy them. Contact me at home: 235-5813 or email historian@townofschaghticoke.org. Thanks in advance!

Sources for this series on schools include: the school records of the town of Schaghticoke, census, Sylvester’s “History of Rensselaer County,” my files, online articles on schools, county maps of 1856 and 1877.

The Schaghticoke Boys

Several years ago I began researching men with connections to Schaghticoke who served in the U.S. Civil War in honor of the 150th anniversary of that horrible conflict. Before I knew it, I had written 500 pages. This book is now available on the website of the town, somewhat awkwardly, but available. If you go to this link:http://townofschaghticoke.org/content/History and click on the first entry: The Civil War..the book will download in a couple of minutes. The first half talks of men who served in the 125th NY Volunteer Infantry Regiment. It was recruited in Rensselaer County, company K mostly in Schaghticoke. The second half deals with men who served in many other regiments. I have written brief biographies of each. They are listed alphabetically in each section, except that the 125th section begins with the officers, with an index at the end.
This book does not have a bibliography. For the most part, I have listed the sources used within each biography. Much of the information came from the records of New York State, which are online at ancestry.com and the website of the New York State Military Museum. Then I used census, church and other records, both on ancestry.com and familysearch.org as well as in my own files, plus google searches. Sometimes I was able to find photographs. I only used those I had permission to use, or ones that were at the website of the Library of Congress or in general in the public realm.
I have had a wonderful time doing this research, and now that I have declared the book “done”, I have a new source of information thanks to the re-enactment group- the 125th NY- which acquired photos of records in the National Archive. so I have a few more men to add. I know that I could find more info if I ordered the pension files of all of the men, but at $80 apiece, that was not possible for my budget. I hope some readers can learn new information about their ancestors through my research. That, along with honoring the men for their sacrifices, was my goal.

Schaghticoke Point: 19th Century Boomtown

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.

Hanford Mills, East Meredith, NY

Hanford Mills, East Meredith, NY

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.
throstle
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.

spinning frame at Lowell

spinning frame at Lowell


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.
mechanized loom at Lowell

mechanized loom at Lowell


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.
this mill was at Lowell, but the mills at Schaghticoke were probably similar

this mill was at Lowell, but the mills at Schaghticoke were probably similar

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.

Richard P. Hart

Richard P. Hart


poster of cotton mill, from Lowell. The cotton was picked over on the first floor, ginned, and carded. It was spun on the second and third floors, and woven on the fourth floor. Note the waterwheel at the bottom center.

poster of cotton mill, from Lowell. The cotton was picked over on the first floor, ginned, and carded. It was spun on the second and third floors, and woven on the fourth floor. Note the waterwheel at the bottom center.

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.

cotton bale

cotton bale


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.
Bibliography:
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

Bicentennial of the Battle of Plattsburgh

battleofplattsburgh

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.

The Mystery of Abel Spalding Read

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.

tombstone of Abel Read, part of DiFranzo's front walk

tombstone of Abel Read, part of DiFranzo’s front walk


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.
abel reed tombstone 3
stone of Abel and wife at Hudsonview

stone of Abel and wife at Hudsonview


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.

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