History of the Town of Schaghticoke

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

Farming In Schaghticoke: 1700-1850



I have written extensively about the industrial revolution in Schaghticoke, from the powder mill and keg factory to the textile mills on the Hoosic River, to grist mills at Schaghticoke Hill and on the Hoosic, to the grain cradle and fanning mill factory of Isaac Grant on the Deep Kill. But what about the history of agriculture?

The earliest farmers in Schaghticoke, in 1710, were busy clearing land and planting subsistence crops. Part of the rent paid by the tenants of the Albany Corporation Lands- the property around today’s Knickerbocker Mansion- was in wheat and fowl. Saw and grist mills were the earliest industries in town, the saw mills cutting the logs to build houses and barns, the grist mills processing the wheat the farmers grew into flour. Of course farm machinery was limited to horse or ox and plow and hand tools. Families became more settled over time, laboriously clearing fields, but the Revolutionary War produced a great disruption. Farms were abandoned as families evacuated in the summer before the battle of Saratoga in fall 1777.

Phil Lord, a New York State archeologist, did a detailed analysis of the farms in the area of the battle of Bennington (actually at Walloomsack in the town of Hoosick) in August 1777, based on a detailed map by a British engineer at the time. In his book, called “War over Walloomscoick,” he concludes that the beginning structures of homesteading farmers in the 18th century were log cabins about 24 x 16’ with a big stone fireplace and a loft reached by a ladder, often with dirt floors. Barns might be a little bigger, with a central bay with doors at each end, to allow for driving a wagon through, with stables on one side and hay storage on the other and perhaps above.

Land was laboriously cleared by cutting down or girdling trees, removing stumps. Rail fences of different kinds enclosed cultivated lands to keep animals out, rather than in. Some places could have stone walls, but there are virtually no stones in my Melrose fields. As to early crops, flax was being grown in Hoosick at the time of the battle of Bennington, so certainly in Schaghticoke as well. Families made their own clothes of flax and sheep. Farmers grew both spring and winter wheat, and Indian corn- maize-. Madame de Pin travelled in Rensselaer County about 1790 and stated, “I rode on horseback through fields of Indian corn which stood much taller than both me and my horse.” Of course the corn could be ground for corn meal or fed to animals. Farmers grew hay as well.  Other crops could be turnips, peas and beans, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, beets, squashes, and cabbages. Families made storage pits or root cellars to store potatoes, and other root crops for the winter.


The number of cows, horses and pigs a farmer had could be limited by his ability to get them through the winter. Early on, not much hay was grown, and animals were expected to forage for themselves in the winter, with some hay and corn supplementing the browses. Hay that would not fit in the barn could be piled under a roof outdoors. Hay could be cut out with a special knife to be fed as needed to the animals.

With the establishment of a new U.S. government, and a new county, Rensselaer, as the 18th century drew to a close, farmers began to expand beyond bare subsistence farming. While they still grew much of what they fed their families, as the 1800’s advanced, farmers diversified, growing other grains: barley, oats, rye, and corn. They began to produce for local industry. In the first quarter of the 19th century, the local textile mills processed and spun linen and wool, so the farmers grew flax and sheep. Then the mill owners transitioned to cotton or imported flax from Europe, so farmers had to find other sources of income.

As one can see from inventories of estates in probate files, farmers grew a little of everything, being quite self-sufficient. They had a few cows for meat and dairy, a few pigs for meat and lard, a few chickens for eggs and meat, and a few geese for feathers, perhaps sheep for wool for home use and/or to sell.  If there was surplus milk, it was made into cheese and butter, which could last better to sell.  They grew feed for the animals- corn and hay-, grain to be ground locally for flour, and potatoes for domestic consumption and to sell. They had a couple of bee hives for honey.  Of course they cut wood for fuel for stoves for heat and cooking. And they had an apple orchard to make cider and hard cider for home or perhaps for sale. There were a couple of cider mills on the local streams.

Let me give a couple of examples of the above from various inventories in probate files. More at the modest end, James Wool, who lived off Fogarty Road, died in 1805. He two cows, and six sheep, plus a spinning wheel and some wool cards, indicating that his wife probably used the wool the sheep produced. He also had some woodworking tools, perhaps pointing toward a specialization as a carpenter. Andrew Weatherwax, who also lived in the southern part of town, died in 1811. He had three cows, including a red one with the horns sawed off, three heifers, a yoke of steers, two horses, seven swine and a sow with pigs, 11 sheep, and 17 geese. He left a “mow of wheat in the sheaf” (meaning it was mown and bundled in the field,) and one of oats, plus seven tons of hay, 90 bushels of corn, and flax in bundles, along with 65 bushels of potatoes, 15 bushels of wool and 30 of flax.  Andrew grew feed for his animals, but also flax and wool to be sold to the local mill. He also had two large and two small spinning wheels, along with yarn for 20 yards of cloth, woolen yarn for blankets, and linen yarn for 15 yards cloth. This indicates that someone in his household was spinning more than would have been used at home, spinning yarn to be sold to be woven into fabric. There is no loom on the inventory. Andrew also had one plow, one harrow, three hoes, two scythes, a grindstone, and a fanning mill. A fanning mill separated the wheat from the chaff mechanically, saving the toil of threshing and winnowing by hand.

Lewis Viele, who died in 1804, was a descendant of the earliest settlers in town. His inventory included basic tools, just one plough, one scythe, and some hand tools, plus nine cattle, nine swine, 16 sheep, five horses, some bushels of corn, rye, wheat, oats, and buckwheat, three pounds of wool and 60 of flax plus casks of meat, a cask of feathers, eleven geese, and six fowls. Lewis also had three slaves: a negro man who sold for $187.50, a boy 12, and a girl, 14, each worth $100. Different than other inventories at the same time, he had 21 pictures in his house, which I would love to have seen. Since this was well before the invention of photography, these could have been engravings, etchings, or oil paintings.


flax break

John Groesbeck died in 1812. His farm was in the Albany Corporation Lands at Schaghticoke and had been farmed by Groesbecks for a couple of generations.  John’s probate inventory really shows a breadth of crops. He had seven horses of different kinds, sixteen cattle, seven “young hogges,” and 38 sheep, plus ten geese and 40 fowls and two bee hives. Besides growing the feed for all those animals, he had the tools to go along with them: the harnesses, collars and bridles, ploughs, an “iron bound wagon,” a lumber slay (sic), plus a sheep shear, an “iron bound” churn, plus the pitch forks, rakes, cradles, and scythes for the hay and wheat. John also grew flax, so had a flax brake and hetchel to use in processing it, plus a bigg (sic) and little spinning wheel, a loom, and a dye pott, indicating that the fibers were processed on the farm. He also had various iron tools- a shovel, chains, hand saw, planes, augurs, crow bars, and axes. There were storage vessels: corn baskets, cider barrels, meat tubs, small casks, stone pots. Mrs Groesbeck, Sylvah, was cooking with 18th century tools: brass and iron kettles, tin pans, a spider (frying pan with legs,) tin and wooden pails, fire tongs and andirons, earthenware crockery, baskets. She cooked over an open hearth. I must add that she had a “humberilla,” a looking glass and a set of 6 chocolate cups and saucers, so life was not totally plain.

Peter Yates, who had been the Colonel of the local regiment in the Revolution, died in 1807. He lived on River Road, just north of its junction with Pinewoods Road. He was a farmer, and had a huge estate, leaving hundreds of acres in a couple other locations to his children. He also left an island in the Hudson River just north of his land to one daughter, “to cut fencing stuff.” Fences were an important part of farms, and usually made of wood. Peter also left a bushel of salt, worth 87 cents, to each child. This was an important commodity for food preservation as well as seasoning.

Peter had farmed on a much larger scale than the men of the preceding paragraphs, partly because he owned seven slaves to work for him. He had seven milk cows, four oxen, two bulls, two heifers, two calves, and one three-year-old steer, plus seven horses, 14 swine, and 19 sheep. His inventory really reflects the self-sufficiency necessary in the 18th century, including a set of blacksmith tools and one of carpenter tools, plus a cider mill. He had a drag, harrow, two plows, pitch forks, and a lumber sleigh and tools, plus irons for a rope walk (where he could make his own rope), a dung fork, and an “old fanning mill.” Owning an island, he had a “ferry scow and tools” to get there. Crops included 56 bushels of wheat, 100 bushels of rye, 70 or oats and 35 of “old corn”, plus 105 bushels of swingled flax (that is processed), and 20 tons of hay. Each child got at least one calf skin, but I don’t know if the tanning was done on the property. Peter and his workers and children could have produced just about anything they needed on the farm- except for that salt.

William Myers, Sr. died in 1826. His farm was where Brock’s farm on Fisherman’s Lane is today. William had four horses, 18 cows, 34 sheep, and eight hogs. Farm tools included a plow, corn plow, cradle (grain cradle), several scythes, a fanning mill, hay forks, a drag, hay rigging, a scoop shovel, and a fanning mill. Harvested crops were: 120 bushels of oats, a mow each of rye, hay, corn stalks, and wheat, a bunch of flax, 13 bushels of barley, 5 tons of hay, 25 bushels of wheat,  a lot of buckwheat, 120 bushels of oats, and a “lot” of beef and pork- probably in barrels. There were also hetchels (for processing flax), a “big wheel” (for spinning wool), and a loom, showing that at least some of the fibers were processed at home.



Farmers have always been quick to adopt new tools and methods to save them work. The first U.S. patent was granted for a fanning mill- a machine to separate wheat from chaff- in 1806, with the second granted to Oliver Barrett, a local man, in 1808, though there were certainly fanning mills before then. Two inventories from that period include fanning mills, that of Andrew Weatherwax of the southern part of town, who died in 1811, and James Wool, who lived off Fogarty Road and died in 1805. In each case, the machine was worth $6, quite a large amount for the time. By 1826, the date of the inventory of William Myers, above, the fanning mill was valued at $15. Mr Myers had another advance in farm tools, a grain cradle, which, combined with a scythe, allowed grain to be laid down neatly in the row for later collection as it was cut. It was developed about the same time as the fanning mill. He also had a corn plow. Of course iron plows had been around for a long time, but this was designed specifically for planting and/or cultivating corn. Many inventories had a grindstone, important for sharpening tools.

grain cradle

grain cradle



A couple of the preceding inventories included oxen among the animals.  One of the debates among farmers and the topic of articles in the agricultural journals of the 19th century was whether oxen or horses were better for working on farms. A writer in the “Genessee Farmer”, published in Rochester in 1849 stated that oxen are cheaper to keep as they don’t need grain, while one in “The Wool Grower and Stock Register”, another Rochester publication, stated in 1852 that horses work better in warm weather than oxen, while “The New England Farmer” of 1839 stated that oxen were good for breaking fallow fields, repairing fences, and carting manure, while horses were superior for plowing.  I love the conclusion of the “Wool Grower and Stock Register”, good advice for anyone: “long intervals of repose for man or beast, interspersed with great and unusual efforts, are in the highest degree injurious. Leave nothing to be done in the spring which can be done in the winter and nothing for the summer than can be accomplished in the spring.”

Post-Revolution farmers began to organize to help each other. The earliest state-wide organization I have found was the Society for the Promotion of Agriculture, Arts, and Manufactures, which began in 1791. As of an 1801 publication of its proceedings, Josiah Masters of Schaghticoke was the representative for Rensselaer County. Josiah may be better known to us as one of the founders of the Schaghticoke Powder Mill, U.S. Congressman, and county judge, but he was also a farmer on Masters Street.  The articles in the publication range from “observations on the drilling of wheat” to “preserving and propagating trees”, to “thoughts on lime and gypsum,” to “advantages of domesticating elk and moose.” The Hessian fly was another concern. The Hessian fly supposedly arrived with the hay for the horses of the Hessian mercenaries who fought with British troops in the Revolution, and was and is a pest of barley, wheat, and rye.   This 1801 publication indicated it had originated on Long Island.

hessian fly

Hessian fly- pest of wheat

According to Anderson’s “Landmarks of Rensselaer County,” the Rensselaer County Agricultural Society began in 1819. George Tibbits, one of the largest landowners in the county, was the President, and Herman Knickerbocker of Schaghticoke was first vice-president. Herman was also a busy lawyer, politician, and judge, younger son of our famous Knickerbocker family. The Lansingburgh managers were Wooster Brookins and Smith Germond of Speigletown and Bethel Mather was the Schaghticoke manager. Wooster Brookins was the son of James, who owned the home just north of  D.L.C. Electric on Route 40. Smith Germond owned the hotel at the junction of Route 40 and Fogarty Road. And Bethel Mather owned the farm where M and T Bank is today- that junction was known as “Colonel Mather’s Four Corners.”  Schaghticoke committee members were William B. Slocum, Nicholas Masters, and John Groesbeck.  William B. Slocum was a farmer and cattle dealer who lived in the Speigletown area of town.  Nicholas Masters was the brother of Josiah from the preceding paragraph, both owners of the Schaghticoke Powder Mill. They lived on today’s Master Street. And Grosbeck was the most common surname in Schaghticoke in 1820…I’m not sure which John Groesbeck this was.

When George Tibbitts spoke at the first meeting of the society, he said that farming practices had not changed since the county was settled, with soils exhausted, and crops failing as a consequence. Besides improving agricultural practices, the society sought to encourage industry, as better farm and home tools could leave farmers more time to improve their farming. In 1820, Herman Knickerbocker gave the address at the society’s annual meeting. He spoke on manures, preparation of earth for receiving seeds, crop rotation, and different kinds of grain, fruit, and cattle for different soils, as well as hedges and fences.

One of the early members of the society was Edmund Genet, “Citizen Genet.” Genet (1763-1834) had come to the U.S. in 1793 as an ambassador from France, and stayed after the French revolution. He married a daughter of Governor George Clinton and lived as a gentleman farmer in East Greenbush.  Members of the agricultural society did all sorts of surveys of soils and experiments in types of fertilizers, seeds, and cultivation. The results were disseminated in the local newspapers, in specialized agricultural newspapers, and in speeches. They put on fairs so that farmers could show off the results of their hard work and teach others. The first county fair was held on grounds “south of Hoosick Street” in fall 1819.

Anderson’s “Landmarks of Rensselaer County implies that the Rensselaer County Agricultural Society continued on until today, with changes in the location of the fairgrounds over the years. The Schaghticoke Fair implies the same thing. But I think the first try at the society failed, as there is a full report in the Troy newspapers on the founding of the organization again in 1834. This would suggest it had failed and was being restarted. The organizational meeting was held at the Mansion House in Troy on January 14, 1834. The Committee to draft a constitution included four men from Schaghticoke: Bethel Mather, Abraham Knickerbocker, Nicholas M. Masters, and John I. Viele. Smith Germond of Speigletown, was involved as well. Edmund Genet was the first President, but he died that year, and when the group met again that fall, Bethel Mather was elected President. I find it interesting first,that primarily the same Schaghticoke people stayed involved, and second, that one of their number became the President.

The group decided not to attempt a fair that year, but to concentrate at getting members. They also appointed representatives to attend the New York State Agricultural Society meeting. That organization had begun in 1832. It promoted agricultural innovation and improvement, and began publishing its “transactions” in 1841, giving farmers another way to access information on new farming techniques. Among the topics discussed by the society at the time were drilling (planting) wheat, preserving and propagating trees, thoughts on lime and gypsum ( used as fertilizer), and “on domesticating elk and moose,” plus manures, preparation of earth for receiving seeds, crop rotation, different kinds of grain, fruit and cattle for different soils, and hedges and fences.

The first fair of the re-established Rensselaer County Agricultural Society was finally held on October 4-5, 1842 in Batestown, which was a part of Lansingburgh. Besides premiums offered at the fair for best animals and crops of different sorts, the Society also awarded prizes to whole farms. In 1842, Abraham Knickerbacker of Schaghticoke offered his farm for inspection. The results were published in the “Transactions” of the agricultural society the following year. He had 330 acres, 100 of which was bottom land on the Hoosic River. He also cultivated 115 acres of upland and had 115 acres of wood. He reported a great crop of wheat planted where he had had clover hay the year before. It was unfortunately damaged by rust, a fungal disease which was just starting to really impact NYS wheat crops. The author of the article about the winning farms reported that he had a “well-systematized and praiseworthy rotation” of crops, with clover every fourth year. He top dressed his fields yearly with plaster (lime), 1 ½ bushels per acre. Every April, Abraham appraised his stock, farming utensils, and produce on hand. He kept good records of his debt and credit. Thus he could review and improve his operations. The full report of the Society appeared in the Troy “Daily Whig” that fall, which reported that the “outbuildings of the farm are numerous, large, and well-arranged.” Abraham’s name appeared as both organizer and winner in following fairs.

knickerbocker mansion

Knickerbocker Mansion, home farm of Abraham Knickerbocker

Of course Abraham was of the famous Knickerbocker family of Schaghticoke. He was the youngest of the four sons of Johannes Knickerbocker (1751-1827). His father left over 1000 acres at his death, in three farms. Abraham, born in 1796, inherited the home farm, and lived in the mansion house. He was a wealthy farmer, firmly settled in the economic elite of the county, though his place was not as firm as that of his father as new manufacturers made a lot of money and gained status. Abraham’s brother, Herman, entered politics and government and had a textile mill, though he ended up with no money.

The 1855 NYS Census recorded that Abraham had 259 improved and 130 unimproved acres. The farm was valued at about $20,000, the animals at $2000, and the tools at $840. The year before he had grown an acre of spring wheat, 30 acres of rye, 12 acres of buckwheat, 30 acres of corn, one acre of turnips,  and three acres of potatoes. He had picked 200 bushels of apples, and made ten barrels of cider. He had killed one cow for beef the previous year, and milked nine cows which produced 1300 pounds of butter. He had 100 fowls, six horses, twelve pigs, and 110 sheep which produced 480 pounds of wool. This wool was certainly intended for the local woolen mill. He was now using gypsum guano as fertilizer.

As of 1855, Abraham was 59 years old, wife Mary was 49. They lived with their son Henry, 33, a 61-year-old lady named Miss Nasroe, two house servants, and two farm laborers. Those four servants were Irish immigrants. By 1865 Henry had moved on, but son Joseph, gentleman, was living at home. Miss Nasroe was listed as an aunt. Joseph stayed on at the mansion after the death of his father in 1869.

Another winning farm in 1842 was that of Daniel Fish in Pittstown. Though he was not in my town, I’m including him as I particularly liked the listing of the types of fence employed on his farm: picket; board, painted and common; stump; sod; stone wall; and rail, plus use of blind and open ditches. I think that a blind ditch is another term for a French drain. Fencing was more to keep other farmers’ animals out of gardens than to keep them in. Early town records include the poundmaster as one of the town officials. His job was to corral loose animals. In addition, Daniel had drained marshes, adding to his pasture land.  Another award-winning farmer planted his corn on clover sod, which he turned in between May 10 and 20.

fence farmers museum

Farmers Museum, Cooperstown- note the fence to keep animals out of the kitchen garden

All farmers were encouraged to eliminate the very invasive Canada thistles, either by frequent plowing or cutting them before they went to seed.  This was even mandated in town law in the 1840’s.  The “Transactions” of the Agricultural Society also included a long article encouraging farm wives to go into the production of silk. This meant their husbands needed to plant mulberry, the food for silk worms, but they would harvest the cocoons and wind the silk. We know that this was an experiment that did not succeed!  There are a couple of columns to report on silk grown in the 1855  New York State census, but in the Schaghticoke portion, at least,  those headings are crossed out by hand and categories for poultry added instead.

In 1843, the Rensselaer County Agricultural Society offered three premiums (prizes) per town for the best three cultivated farms. Henry P. Strunk, whose farm was on the west side of Route 40, almost into Washington County, was the first place winner. He had 156 acres of sandy loam, 116 under cultivation. He had the whole farm divided into lots of 12-15 acres by post and board fences. He grew wheat, rye, oats, and corn, with 12 acres of meadow and 14 fallow acres, plus 28 acres of pasture in clover and timothy. Henry had two pairs of matched horses, a two-year-old colt, plus 12 milk cows, seven hogs and nine shoats (young pigs).

The 1850 census reports that Henry P. Strunk was born in 1800. As of that date, his farm was valued at $8,000. He and wife Elener, 48, had three children living with them that year: Mary J., 21, Julia, 18, and Martha, 14, plus a farm laborer, John A. Groesbeck, 24. Henry and Elener actually had six children: there were two other daughters, Maria and Harriet, plus a son, Philip. Philip had moved to Wisconsin by 1850. The 1855 census states that Henry had 126 improved and 20 unimproved acres, valued at $7800. The animals were worth $1000, and the tools $150. The previous year, he had grown ten acres of winter wheat, 33 of oats, 14 of rye and one of buckwheat, plus 14 of corn and ten of potatoes. He had 100 fowl, and milked ten cows, producing 1000 pounds of butter. He had three horses and 37 pigs. This range of crops is a fairly typical of medium-sized farm of the time from what I have read.

As you might imagine, when Henry died in 1858, the inventory of his estate revealed many farm implements:  hoes, potato forks, corn cutters, spades, cultivators, three ploughs, grind stone, scythes,  four grain cradles, a corn sheller, rakes, a fanning mill, plus two two-horse wagons,  and two sleighs. He had 14 pigs, four cows, 20 fowls, and 16 turkeys. It seems to me that he must have disposed of at least his horses himself before his death, if not some other animals. In a list of items retained for the use of the widow, there was just one horse, one one-horse wagon, one one-horse sleigh, and a set of harness, plus one cow and two pigs.  He also left a few acres of corn, potatoes, and rye.



From the inventory of the interior of the house, Henry and Elener lived well. The house was carpeted, including the stairs. They had a mahogany table, 12 parlor chairs, a mirror, 3 sets of window curtains and “fixings”, and 3 girandoles. A girandole is “a branched support for candles or other lights,” which either stands on a table or is attached to the wall. They also had three lamps.  The only wall decorations mentioned were wall maps of Schaghticoke and Rensselaer County. The only book mentioned is a Bible.  They had several stoves, presumably for heat in the rooms, and a Stewart cook stove in the kitchen. Elener had two sets of dishes, 12 silver tea spoons, and a pair of sugar tongs, among other dishes and glassware. She also had a spinning wheel and a loom, three churns, and a wash tub. It is interesting that she had both loom and spinning wheel, while the farm had no flax or sheep. Perhaps they were historical artifacts at this point, or she may have bought the fiber elsewhere.

Henry must have been either a generous man or a poor judge of character, as he didn’t owe any money when he died, but was owed a total of $2500 by a dozen people. The prospect of collecting all of these debts was listed as “doubtful.”  But at least one of the debts was understandable, about $1500 to his son-in-law George Leslie. Daughter Maria Leslie received nothing from the estate as a result.

Elener continued to run the farm in the years after Henry’s death. She died in 1864, and left a spring calf, two 2-year old heifers, 1 yearling heifer, one cow, 45 Dunghill fowl (chickens), six shoats (young pigs) and two hogs, and 1 turkey with ten chicks., plus lots of unthrashed oats, hay, 12 acres of rye, 4 ½ acres of potatoes, 10 acres of corn not gathered, 13 acres of buckwheat and 20 acres of rye on the ground, all more than when Henry died.


Second place farm winner awarded by the Rensselaer County Agricultural Society in  1843 was Colonel Isaac Tallmadge, who had 255 acres around the junction of what are now Master Street and Bunker Hill Road, where the Stark farm is now. The farm was divided into lots of equal size, each of which opened onto a road with an English swing gate. His crops were the same as Strunk, above, with the addition of buckwheat, potatoes, and ten acres of flax. He had five horses, 16 cattle, 17 hogs and 29 shoats, plus 300 sheep. He used forty tons of plaster per year on his fields, plus all of the manure of his animals. Amazingly, he had two miles of stone wall on his farm, topped by 10,000 chestnut rails. Two of his three barns had basements for his sheep, and all the outbuildings were painted. His farm must have been gorgeous.

Isaac was born in Dutchess County in 1787. He moved to town with his parents and a couple of siblings before 1800. He married Lucinda Canfield in the Schaghticoke Dutch Reformed Church in 1808. At the time of the war of 1812, he was in the 45th Infantry Regiment, the local militia organization, as a lieutenant. He was gradually promoted over time, finally reaching the rank of Colonel some time after 1820. He and Lucinda had at least two sons, but son James, father of at least five children, died in 1853, leaving son William as his father’s heir when Isaac died in 1867.

As of the 1850 census, Isaac’s farm was valued at $16,000.  He and wife Lucinda had a granddaughter, also Lucinda, born in 1836, living with them. I’m not sure who her parents were.  In 1850 they had two servants: Abigail Sheldon, 45, and Michael Irish, 25, an Irish immigrant, in the household. Isaac must have hired farm labor as he needed it, or had hands who didn’t live in. In the 1855 census, Isaac reported 215 improved and 40 unimproved acres, worth $12,750. His animals were worth $1374 and tools $200. The previous year he had grown six acres of winter wheat, ten of oats, twenty of rye and corn, and five of potatoes. He had grown flax for another mill in town, producing 2 ½ tons of lint (fiber) on fifteen acres, plus 150 bushels of seed. The flax seed could be processed as well, producing oil and animal feed. Isaac had sixty fowl, milked four cows, and had five horses and 18 pigs. He also raised 140 sheep, producing 500 pounds of fleece for the local wool mill. More than many other farmers, Isaac was growing for the local market for both wool and flax.

Isaac was very involved in the Rensselaer County Agricultural Society until at least 1860. His name appears in the Troy papers as a member of the executive committee of the organization, which was formed in 1841, as a member of the committee on farms, and as a winner- having the 3rd place wheat in 1844, and having produced 11 bushels of flax seed and 258 pounds of dressed flax from one acre, having the best sheep at the fair in 1851, and having a “remarkably fine” three-year-old short horned Durham cow in 1858. During the time of his involvement, the Agricultural Society acquired fair grounds on the east side of Lansingburgh and erected a number of fair buildings.

The third place farm in 1843 was that of Lewis Buffett. It was 166 acres in between the village of Schaghticoke and the Hoosic River, which had several oxbows. Three of his thirteen lots were surrounded by the Hoosic River, meaning the land was rich, flooded yearly, and needed no manure. Lewis had the same crops as the others, with three acres of potatoes. He had just four horses, 16 cattle, and six hogs.

Lewis Buffett was an ancestor of the billionaire Warren Buffett. Lewis’ father, Jesse, came to Schaghticoke from Long Island after the Revolution, and was a prominent local innkeeper. Lewis was born in 1802. He did not marry. The 1850 census listed him with a farm worth $13,800. He had a housekeeper, Catherine Armstrong, 21, and an Irish farm laborer, William Case, 30 and his wife Hannah, 25, living with him. On the 1856 map of town, his name is on the map to the east of Pleasant Avenue, just south of where the Hoosic Valley Elementary School is now. I believe his farm was sold to John A. Baucus, whose name appears in that spot on the 1876 Beers map. By 1870, Lewis had retired from farming, and lived on the east side of Route 40 in the village of Schaghticoke just south of where Pleasant Avenue branches off, so not far from his farm. He died in 1872.

Lewis was very involved in Whig party politics from at least 1837-1860. I found him in the Troy papers as a chairman of the Schaghticoke Whigs and delegate to the County Whig Convention on a number of occasions. He appears in town records only as having been a school commissioner, so while he was very active in politics, he was not an office holder.

I will end my story of agriculture at this point, as I reach mid-century. I’d love to find out more about farms in general- it seems that men planted for their own use and for the local markets- for example, flax and sheep, but also dairy products, which could not have been transported far in the days before the railroad and refrigeration.  In the mid-1800’s, some, at least, spent lots of time on buildings and fences. They must have hired local farm workers, but I don’t know how many and with what regularity. So this is not the end of my research.

I will note that the story of the Rensselaer County Agricultural Society is much more complicated than I thought. The Society had at least one re-start at the start of the 1800’s. To carry its history forward a bit,  it worked hard to improve its grounds in Batestown, only to have the buildings burn in June 1852. The members bought new land, also in Lansingburgh, and rebuilt that same year. There was another fire in 1866, and the society went out of business and sold its grounds in 1874. After a re-organization in 1880, the fair started again in Rensselaer Park in 1882. By 1896 the fair was in Nassau, and by 1921 in Schaghticoke. I will go into much more detail on all of this in the future.



Genessee Farmer edited by Daniel Lee and DDT Moore, 1849, Rochester NY p. 259

New England Farmer, Vol 18, 1839 p. 56

NYS Census 1855

Proceedings of the Rensselaer County Agricultural Society, First Annual Report, 1834, Troy, NY: in the NY Farmer and American Gardeners Magazine, 1835, New York

Transactions of the NYS Agricultural Society, Vol. II, 1842, Albany 1843

Transactions of the NYS Agricultural Society, Vo. III, 1843, Albany 1844

Transactions of the Society for the Promotion of Agricultural Arts and Manufactures, Vol 1, 1801, Albany NY

“Troy Daily Times” 1866, 1874, 1880, 1882, 1900, 1904, 1913- articles on the Rensselaer County Agricultural Society

“Troy Whig”, June 24, 1852, Sept 14, 1852

US Census 1810, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850

The Wool and Stock Grower, vol IV, 1852-1853, Rochester NY p 176


Give up Demon Drink!!!!



I have written a lot about Schaghticoke in the first half of the 19th century: about its industry, agriculture, religion, schooling, government, but not much about its society, about cultural trends.  One of the major movements of the 1800’s was temperance, meaning either moderation in or abstinence from alcoholic drinks. So far I have found little research and writing about the movement, which is surprising given its importance in the history of our country.  In the Troy “Budget” newspaper from 1834-1854 there are almost 3000 mentions of temperance- proof of its prevalence at even such an early date. I must emphasize that drinking alcohol was clearly a part of 19th century society. To begin with, water often wasn’t pure, so everyone, man, woman, and child, drank an alcoholic alternative. I’m sure you’ve heard that men on sailing ships received a daily ration of grog, as did soldiers in the American Revolution. Even in the records of construction of a new cotton mill on the Hoosic River in 1825, rum and whisky were part of the expenses, a regular part of the daily wages of the workers. There were several taverns in the tiny village of Schaghticoke in the early 1800’s, and a number of “houses” throughout the town where alcohol was served. Town meetings and elections were held in different “houses” over the years, which were literally houses with a bar room.

There were several waves of temperance during the 1800’s through the adoption of the 18th amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1919, which prohibited the manufacture or importation of “intoxicating beverages”. This was repealed by the 21st amendment in 1933, which brought to an end the era known as “Prohibition.”   But to go back to the start, one source I read stated that the Temperance Movement began as early as 1794 in New England, with the first supporters advocating moderation in drink. People could see that excessive drinking led men to lose their jobs, abuse their families, and destroy their health. The early movement got lost in side issues, like advocating for better observance of the Sabbath.



But Connecticut minister Lyman Beecher restarted the temperance movement in 1825 with a number of sermons warning of the dangers of drunkenness to our country. The Presbyterian Church was in general the backbone of the movement.   In 1826 the American Temperance Society was founded in Boston. It sent people out through the whole country to preach about the dangers of drink, and the movement caught fire. By 1831 there were over 2000 temperance societies in the country, with over 170,000 members enrolled. Now abstinence was urged rather than moderation.

At first the American Temperance Society preached to moderate drinkers, encouraging them to give up alcohol, making it up to the individual to have self -control. As time went on, people were encouraged to sign “the teetotal pledge,” to give up alcohol entirely, and members began to lobby the government to adopt legislation to limit the traffic in liquor.

In the 1840’s new organizations, the Washingtonians and the Sons of Temperance, preached to heavy users of alcohol, really in an evangelical way, urging listeners to give up “demon rum.” These were more like clubs, supporting each other in abstinence. Speakers traveled the country, encouraging the formation of new organizations, preaching against drink. Some aimed specifically at the new Irish immigrants. The organizations put out publications as well, ranging from newspapers to songs, poems, essays, and novels showing the evils of drink. Women were members of all of the organizations.



I have found some evidence of the Temperance movement in Schaghticoke.  Apparently New York State had begun its society, the NY Society for the Promotion of Temperance, by 1829, as the group published its 3rd Annual Report in 1832. In this report, I found that Wyatt Swift, President of the Schaghticoke Powder Mill, was President of the local group, which had an amazing 392 members, an increase of 211 over the preceding year. Wyatt wrote, “We have much to encourage us to persevere in the cause of temperance; we have had three public meetings at which addresses were made on the subject.” The group had also passed out literature.  Can you imagine any group in town now with 400 members? By 1833 there were 530 members, and there were three temperance stores and taverns. This would imply that neither the stores nor taverns would sell intoxicating beverages. I can see that a store could make its money otherwise, but I can’t imagine a successful tavern without alcohol- would it then be a tea or coffee house?  The very numbers of those joining the movement seems to indicate that many people must have either been drinking too much alcohol or have been affected by relatives who drank too much.



Temperance reform continued in the village of Schaghticoke. An article in the Troy “Budget” in 1842 reported that “William VanWagner, a blacksmith from West Troy, has addressed the people on the subject,” with sixty people signing the pledge to give up alcohol after the talk. VanWagner spoke nine times in school houses all around the town, with more and more people signing. “The great mass of temperate drinkers have felt willing to forego the pleasure of occasionally sipping wine, beer, and cider, and take the pledge for total abstinence.” Seven hundred people in the village had signed the pledge- it probably had about 1000 residents at that time, so this was an amazing number.

Catholics had a society of their own, with 137 members in the valley, this only a year after the Catholic Church opened.  The Lutheran congregation in the Melrose area had 100 members of its society.  And Ephraim Congdon, who ran the large hotel in the village, site of many town and other meetings, had changed his tavern to a “temperance house. All intoxicating drinks have been banished,” replaced by hot coffee. Congdon was a very active member of the Presbyterian Church in the village.

Clearly, Schaghticoke mirrored the national trends, with outside speakers coming in to exhort people to give up drink right on the spot. Organizations formed around the churches. The Presbyterian Church had clearly taken the lead. One of its local governing bodies, the Session, acted as a moral court, interviewing and admonishing, then helping members who erred. Its surviving minutes date from a later date, beginning in about 1860, but show that the temperance movement continued. In 1870 the session recommended the formation of a Sabbath School Temperance Society, inviting all area churches to join the meeting. Charles Pickett, who was President of the village of Schaghticoke at the time, was cited for public intoxication and swearing. He did come before the board and promise to reform, but was expelled from the church in the end, not for his drinking, but for not appearing to be judged by the Session.

In the end, the Session went too far. In 1878, one of the members, John Ackart, proposed that “a pledge of abstinence is to be required of all applicants as a condition of membership in this church.” The Presbytery, the body governing local churches, found that this was “unconstitutional.” Instead the session drafted a statement to be read from the pulpit, urging members to abstain from all amusements, as dancing, card playing, attendance at theatrical performances, etc., including alcohol, and urging them instead to attend church more and read the Bible daily.  Clearly not all citizens followed the Presbyterian’s strictest rules. In 1870 there were at least seven taverns of one sort or another in town, and at least one grocery store that also sold liquor.





(“Temperance Movement.” Dictionary of American History. 2003. Encyclopedia.com. 4 Jan. 2016<http://www.encyclopedia.com>.








Schaghticoke in 1840



I have been blogging about the history of Schaghticoke  since July 2011, mostly chronologically, and ,with some detours, have reached about 1840. At that point, we can see elements of our modern town, together with holdovers from its colonial past. The town had a population of 3,400, not that different from now, as the town was smaller physically. The southern border of the town was the Deep Kill, which crosses route 40 at Grant’s Hollow. The population skewed young, with 1315 people under 21 and only 129 over 60. 2% of the population, or 76 people were free blacks. 28 of them lived in fifteen families, with the rest living one or two apiece as servants in various white families. I will write about the black families later.

The town government of 1840 was similar in some ways to that of today, with a supervisor, town clerk, and town justices. But there were no town councilmen. There were a couple of election inspectors, four assessors, and a commissioner of highways, similar to today, but  there were 32 highway overseers, as men were in charge of maintenance of the road abutting their land. The town also had a couple of poundmasters, as one of the problems in town was animals getting loose and harming crops. Early town laws mandated when cattle could be “free commoners,” in other words, run free. In 1842, the law read that hogs could never be free commoners, but cattle were from May 15 to October 15. The town also had its own sealer of weights and measures and overseer of the poor, both functions done by state and county governments now. There was only one town meeting per year, versus monthly meetings and other special meetings now.

The town also had its own police force, the officers called “constables.” These men were ordinary citizens appointed to fill the positions yearly. In 1844 there were five constables. Town records through the 1840’s show various citizens applying to make new roads. The same thing happens now with a new development, but just less frequently.   There already was a lot of the road system that exists now, though the roads were dirt or plank, the main road, route 40, a toll road. The bridges over the Hoosic River, at Valley Falls and Schaghticoke, and the Hudson, at Stillwater, were privately-owned toll bridges. There was a ferry across the river at Hemstreet Park.  People traveled by horse, horse and wagon, and on foot for private transportation. Public transportation was by steamboat or canal boat on the rivers and canals, by stagecoach from town to town. Railroads had begun to be built, but hadn’t reached our town yet.


current photo of the Melrose School on Mineral Springs Road

The town was divided into fifteen school districts, each with a one-room schoolhouse, with a total of 840 students.  Unlike today, the town oversaw the schools, providing part of the funding, but each district had a local school superintendent. There was no public education beyond about 8th grade available in town. A few children of wealthier families were sent to private schools in Troy, Greenwich, Fort Edward,  and elsewhere, and fewer went on to college. The census states that only six people were illiterate. I wonder what the definition of illiterate was. I feel that number is definitely less than the reality, just from the wills and documents of the period I have read where people were unable to sign their names, using just an X.

grain cradle

Grain cradle of the kind patented by Isaac Grant and Daniel Viall

As today, there was just one village, then called Schaghticoke Point, grown up around the bustling mills in the gorge of the Hoosic River. There was a small settlement in Grant’s Hollow, where Isaac Grant had an agricultural machinery factory and store. It had a school house, church, and post office. There was another settlement at Schaghticoke Hill, on route 40 just south of where the Tomhannock Creek crosses. It grew up because of the grist, textile, gun powder, and keg mills on the stream, and had a school, church, blacksmith shop, and at least one small store. Where we might have auto repair shops, there were blacksmiths, who shoed horses and repaired wagons and other items made of iron. There were a number of inns, some more like bars, others more like hotels. Sometimes a home would have one room that would be a general store or a tavern. Residents of Schaghticoke had some choice of churches in 1840: Dutch Reformed, Presbyterian, Methodist, or Lutheran. The Catholic Church was founded in 1841. Outside the hamlets, the land was divided into farms, large and small. The farms were divided and bounded by all kinds of fences: stone, rail, board, with gates of all sorts.

In the 1840 federal census, 491 people worked in agriculture, 454 in manufacture and trade, and 16 in commerce. Some of those in manufacture and trade were women, but this census lists only the names of the heads of household and numbers of people in the occupations, so it is possible to tell only by inference. For example, if three people in a family worked in manufacture and there were only two males, one of the females must have been working in a mill. The same would be true for female farmers, of course.

I had always thought about 19th century Schaghticoke as an agricultural community with a little industry, but this even division of occupations proves that wasn’t so.  I have written before about the industrial revolution in Schaghticoke. Besides the mills listed in Grant’s Hollow and Schaghticoke Hill, there were textile, saw, and grist mills in the gorge of the Hoosic River at Schaghticoke, and at the falls between Schaghticoke and Valley Falls. There were also seasonal flax processing, saw, cider, and grist mills on the Tomhannock Creek and other small streams throughout the town.

The census also listed nine “learned professors and engineers” in town, and in a connection to the past, five Revolutionary War veterans. I thought it might be interesting to learn a little about those folks. I’ll begin with the Revolutionary War vets.  They were Peter Ackart, 84; Elisha Phelps, 82; Nathaniel Robinson, 82; John L. VanAntwerp, 80; and John Welch, 77.   By the way, there were only six men over 80 in the whole town, and four of them were Rev War vets.

All I can find out about John Welch is that he was the head of a household, probably including his wife, plus 1 male aged 20-29, one female aged 10-14, and three females aged 15-19. They young people are young enough to be grandchildren rather than children. As the household includes four people working in manufacturing and trade, this means that at least two of those people were women, if John was still working, if not, then three.


I also know very little about Elisha Phelps. His wife was Clarissa Phelps. She was a sister of Dr. Ezekiel Baker, the prominent local doctor until his death in 1836. According to Ezekiel’s probate file, they had lived in Cambridge. By the 1840 census, Clarissa had died, and Elisha was living with Freeman Baker and his family. I am not sure how Freeman was related to the many other Bakers in town, but I don’t think Elisha and Clarissa had any children, so he was probably a nephew or great-nephew. The family included 1 male under 5, 1 26-29, 1 30-39, Elisha, and 1 female under 5, two from 5-9, and 1 from 20-29. Two people worked in agriculture, probably Freeman and the other young man. There is an Elisha Phelps in the pension roll for NY for 1833, but I have not found his pension file online.

Nathaniel Robinson, 82, lived in town with just his wife, Susanna Hamblin, as of that 1840 census. However, his son Samuel, born in 1809 here in Schaghticoke, lived next door, with a large family, so at least the old people had some support.  According to his pension application, Nathaniel was born in Peekskill in 1759 and enlisted there in 1777   as a member of a Connecticut regiment of the line.  This means he was in the regular Army rather than the militia. He was a full-time soldier, while militia men were only called out as needed.  His commanding General was Anthony Wayne. Nathaniel was in the battles of Germantown, Monmouth, and Stoney Point, serving for three years. He was wounded in the leg at the battle of Monmouth, and apparently was lame for life.

I first find Nathaniel in the census for Schaghticoke in 1810, though by the evidence of Samuel’s birth in 1809, he had arrived a bit earlier. Ancestry.com family trees indicate Samuel was the youngest son of a large family. By 1819, at age 61, Nathaniel applied for a pension. He was fortunate to have the help of local resident and first judge of the county Josiah Masters. Masters added a note to the application saying, “I am personally acquainted with Nathaniel Robinson and he is very poor and in want of assistance from his country. Indeed both his revolutionary service and poverty is (sic) a matter of common notoriety in this part of the country.”  Nathaniel was awarded $8 per month, about $150 per month today. At the time, his two youngest children lived with him and wife Susan. They were Sally, aged 15 and Samuel, aged 10.

As part of the pension application, Nathaniel submitted an inventory of his possessions. He didn’t have to include his bedding and clothes as they were considered essential. He had no real estate, but had vegetables in a hired garden worth $10. He had a 12-year-old cow worth $15, three pigs worth $6, four chickens worth 50 cents, one axe, one hoe, two pails, one iron kettle, four knives, three iron spoons, one pot and a tea kettle, one basin, three bowls, two jugs, one bottle, one tumbler, one churn, one griddle, three cups and saucers, one small spinning wheel, one loom, two shuttles, one broom, two baskets, one shovel and tongs, four plates, one spider, and one iron crane. A spider is a frying pan with legs, for use over an open fire by placing it on a crane. The total value was about $50, and Nathaniel owed about $60.  The Robinsons must have led a very basic existence indeed.


perhaps Mrs Robinson made a bit of money spinning yarn.

Nathaniel died in 1843, wife Susanna the following year. They are buried in the Brookins Cemetery, on the west side of Route 40 in the Melrose part of town. I am sure they lived in that part of town. Three wives of Samuel Robinson are buried there as well. Samuel lived on in the area until his death in 1891. He is buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

The last two Revolutionary War veterans in the 1840 census had actually been members of the local militia, the 14th Albany County. Sylvester’s “History of Rensselaer County,” published in 1880, records Peter Ackart as one of the few Revolutionary War veterans remembered by residents to that day. I find this ironic, as I have been able to find out so little about him in the public record. He was definitely born here, probably the son of another Peter Ackart. I feel he was the Peter Ackart, Jr., who was born in 1767.  He was a very young soldier, and served with his father in the 14th Albany County Militia. I have found him in the local census from 1790 until his death. As of 1803, he had real estate worth $948 and a personal estate of $157. He was a farmer, and probably lived in the area just to the north of Stillwater Bridge Road, where several Ackart families lived in the 1850’s.

This Peter married Maria Benway, a local girl, born in 1789. Their first child, David, was born in 1807. The couple went on to have seven children in total baptized at the Schaghticoke Dutch Reformed Church, the last in 1826. At least two died young. Peter died in 1845. His tombstone is in Elmwood Cemetery. He must have been buried elsewhere first and reinterred as the cemetery opened in 1863. The 1855 census lists the families of three of his sons: David, Jacob, and John, who all lived next door to each other. Peter’s widow Maria, then 66, lived with Jacob and his family. She died in 1866 and is also in Elmwood Cemetery. So this wife of a Revolutionary War veteran survived through the Civil War. No wonder locals remembered her husband Peter as a vet of the earlier war when Sylvester wrote his history.

John Lewis VanAntwerp, 80, was the final Revolutionary War veteran listed in the 1840 census. He was also listed in Sylvester’s “History” as a known veteran. He lived with one of his sons, Peter Yates VanAntwerp.   John was born in Albany in 1760, but moved to Schaghticoke by age four. He enlisted in the local militia regiment in March, 1776, another very young soldier. He served off and on until 1780, rising in the ranks as Ensign, Corporal, and Sergeant, and according to one record, to Lieutenant. When the war started, the Colonel of the 14th Albany was John Knickerbacker, prominent local man. In 1778 John VanAntwerp married Catlyna Yates, daughter of Peter Yates, in Albany. Peter and his family had moved recently to Schaghticoke, and he became the Colonel of the 14th after John was wounded at the battle of Saratoga at the end of 1778. So John L. VanAntwerp must have been quite a guy, becoming an officer and marrying the daughter of the new Colonel before the age of 20.

In his pension application, John described his Revolutionary War service. He served until 1780, “employed in watching and pursuing hostile Indians at Schaghticoke and Stillwater.” He also marched to Lake George, Fort Edward, Fort Ann, and Whitehall. About October 1, 1777, he was part of a company attached and volunteered to General Gates, in Camp at Stillwater. He was there until the surrender of Burgoyne. In 1778 he guarded different forts on the northern frontier. At one point he marched to Fort Ticonderoga to look at British shipping. This matches what I have read of the experiences of quite a few other local men. They served a month to six weeks each year of the war, as needed.

John and Catlyna had a number of children. Five were baptized in the Schaghticoke Dutch Reformed Church, starting with Alida and ending with Peter Yates in 1794. Catlyna’s father, Peter Yates, the Colonel, died in 1808. He was a wealthy man with a number of children. Catlyna received household items from his estate, plus a silver table spoon, a silver ½ pint cup, a mare, a cow, and a bushel of salt. She also received 200 acres of land in Montgomery County, and 100 pounds.  Unfortunately John does not appear in the early New York State assessment rolls, from 1799-1804. I would love to know if he used his wife’s inheritance well. What happened to the property in Montgomery County?   I feel the family lived in the area north of Stillwater Bridge Road, near the Ackarts. John was a farmer. Catlyna died in 1810, not long after her father, leaving John as a widower with several teenage children at home.

When John finally applied for a pension, in 1832, he seemed to have to go to very great lengths to prove he had been a veteran. This would seem ironic for the son-in-law of the Colonel of the Regiment. Herman Knickerbacker, son of John, former Congressman, and judge of the county, testified on his behalf, along with the pastor of the Dutch Reformed Church, Peter Ackart, and Wynant Vandenbergh, who with his father tended the ferry over the Hudson River at Stillwater during the war. Wynant said he had seen John take the ferry on many occasions while on duty during the Revolution. Despite all this support, John was dropped from the pension rolls for a couple of years.  Job Pierson, another local former Congressman and judge, helped John re-apply and obtain his pension again, in 1837, at which point he was owed $320. When John died in 1848, he left two sons, Peter and John, and two daughters, Sarah and Maria. John and Maria died by 1851, but Peter and Sarah continued to receive their father’s pension. As of the 1855 census, Peter, then 61, was a farmer with wife Mariah and five daughters. He and Sarah both died in 1860. He is buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

So the 1840 census lets us know quite a lot about most of the oldest residents in town. We find that they were well-known in the community. The most prominent residents were ready to speak up for them and the veracity of their life stories. One of them was a destitute old man, despite living near his son, but the others were at least able to live comfortably, and all had family nearby, if they didn’t live with them.

The 1840 census also identifies eight men who were “learned professors, and engineers.”  I feel this is a euphemism for people with a college education or the equivalent. The fact of singling out these men, for they are all men, from those working in agriculture and manufacturing and trades, the other two categories, indicates how rare this was in the U.S. in 1840. At least in Schaghticoke, there were no engineers. There were three doctors, three pastors, and two lawyers. At least one lawyer, Thomas Ripley, was not included in the list- he was assigned no occupation in the census, so perhaps there was an error there. Thomas was a graduate of R.P.I. who became a U.S. Congressman a few years later. He certainly was a “learned professor.”

I will begin with the three doctors:  Ezekiel Baker, Zachariah Lyon, and Simon Newcomb.  Simon Newcomb was born in Nine Partners, near Poughkeepsie, in 1779. He had moved to Pittstown by 1800 with his parents and family.  He married Sarah Follett in 1802. They had children William, Nahum, Nomina, Wesley, David, Simon, and Sally, who died as an infant. Sarah died in 1820 and he married Hannah Stover in 1821. They had four daughters:  Sarah, Elizabeth, and twins Louisa and Mary. According to “The Genealogy of the Newcomb Family”, written in 1874, Simon lived in “upper Schaghticoke” for about eleven years. The 1840 census captured him in our town during that time, but he was back in Pittstown by 1850. That census found Samuel (sic), 70, with real estate of $3500; Hannah, 57; Eliza, 24; Louisa and Mary, 20. By 1860 they had moved to the Speigletown area, part of the town of Lansingburgh at the time. Simon made it into the 1870 census, aged 91. He had real estate worth $5000, and a personal estate of $11,500. His daughters Elizabeth and Mary lived with him. He died later that year and is buried in Tomhannock. The genealogy notes that he was healthy in body and mind right up to his death.  Several of his children lived locally, and his son Wesley also became a doctor. He was a founder of Albany Medical College and an internationally known conchologist (expert on mollusks.)


Simon Newcomb

The family genealogy describes Simon in glowing terms. As I have found with many prominent men of the era, he was active in all aspects of the life of his community: financial, political, and religious, as well as professional, as a doctor. He began his career as a teacher in the local school in Millertown at age seventeen. He joined the Methodist Church about the same time. Unlike the other doctors in the census, he studied medicine with several local doctors, rather than going to college. He apprenticed a year each with Ezekiel Baker, the uncle of the Ezekiel Baker in the 1840 census, David Doolittle, Nehemiah King, and John Hurlburt. He volunteered with the local regiment for the war of 1812, though the men  never got to fight. In addition to being a doctor, he was the first postmaster at Johnsonville, a justice of the peace for 27 years, the town supervisor in Pittstown for three years, U.S. assessor for two years, plus town clerk, commissioner of deeds, and overseer of the poor. He was described as being a stern man of firm decision, great integrity, and unpretentious dignity.

Zachariah Lyon was the second doctor in the 1840 census. He is mentioned in several 19th century histories of Rensselaer County as an early doctor in town- but without elaboration. I have pieced together his biography from census and a couple of newspaper articles. He first appears in the local census in 1830, with a family of five, including two immigrants.  Presumably the count included him, his wife, Sarah Lavinia, daughter Anna, and perhaps two servants. The 1855 census indicates he and Sarah had been in town for 27 years, which would put their arrival in 1828. That census lists Zachariah as 62 years old, born in Connecticut. Sarah, 65, was born in Vermont, as was daughter Anna, 40. She was born in Sunderland, Vermont, a small town in southwest Vermont.  This would indicate that the Lyons moved here from Vermont when Zachariah was 34, Sarah 35, and Anna 13.   All of the other censuses indicate Zachariah was born in Massachusetts.  Presumably Zachariah came to town as an experienced physician, having practiced in Vermont. Zachariah had arrived at a good time, businesswise, as the established doctor, Ezekiel Baker, was elderly, and died in 1836. In 1837, he and Baker’s nephew, another Ezekiel and doctor, were the two doctors called to examine murder victim Herman Groesbeck, to determine the cause of death, an indication that he was firmly established here.

As with Simon Newcomb, Zachariah was involved in politics. I found him as a delegate to the local Whig conventions in the 1840’s. He was the town supervisor of Schaghticoke in 1854. He was also involved with his church, as one of the founding vestrymen of the local Episcopal Church in 1846. During the Civil War, the government imposed new taxes, and these showed that Zachariah paid 12 cents in tax for four pieces of silver- presumably silverware- plus $1 each for two one-horse carriages. He paid on income of $235 in 1864. To me this indicates a comfortable but not wealthy family. The census consistently shows one household servant. At least one carriage would be necessary for his job as a doctor.

Daughter Anna appears in the census with her parents in all but one census. Sometime between 1855 and 1860, she married Embree Maxwell. He was a farmer from Saratoga County, just a couple of years older than her father. He died in 1863 and is buried near the Quaker Meeting House in the town of Saratoga, according to an article in “The Saratogian” in 1940. Anna and Embree had a child, Frank, probably about the time his father died. The 1865 census found Anna back with her parents, with Frank, aged 1 8/12.

The family was together for the last time in the 1870 census, which listed Zachariah as 78, with an estate worth $18,000, still working as a physician. Sarah was 80, Anna, 52, and Frank 6. Sarah died in 1872, and Zachariah in 1873. This left daughter Anna as his only heir. She received his house and lot plus the income from the rent of a brick store, sheds, and a yard next to his home. This indicates he had lived in the village of Schaghticoke. The Lyons are buried in Elmwood Cemetery. Frank died at age 13, and Anna died in 1892 of tuberculosis. Both are in Elmwood as well. I would love to find out where Zachariah was born, where he was educated, how they ended up in Schaghticoke, how the couple felt when their only daughter married an elderly Quaker farmer, how they felt when they finally had a grandchild.

The third doctor in the 1840 census was Ezekiel Baker. Researching him has caused me all kinds of frustration. At this point, I think that there were three men by that name in Schaghticoke in the first 35 years of the 19th century. The eldest Ezekiel was been born about 1730 in Connecticut. An ancestry.com researcher says he was here as of the 1790 census, with a family of 2 males over 16 and 3 females over 16, but moved on and died in Herkimer County in 1800. His son Ezekiel was born in 1761, and travelled with the family to Schaghticoke, but stayed on, as did his son Truman. I don’t have any way independently of that researcher to be sure of that father and son. But for sure, a man named Ezekiel Baker was in the 1790 census, and then in  the 1800 census, Ezekiel shows up with a family of one male from 10-16, 2 from 17-26, one from 27-44, one female under 10, 1 from 17-26, and one from 27-44. I’m not sure who all of those people were, as this Ezekiel and his wife Rhoda had no children. Ezekiel Baker was also one of the first school commissioners of the town, before 1800, and one of the organizers of the Homer Masonic Lodge in 1799.

The Ezekiel Baker of the 1800 census was a doctor. As of the 1803 NYS assessment, he had real estate of $1950 and a personal estate of $257. That same year, he was one of the founders of the Schaghticoke Presbyterian Church and an original trustee. This church was founded by the incoming New Englanders to town, and was THE church of the local mill owners, movers and shakers. When the church was reorganized in 1820, Ezekiel was still a trustee. He purchased pew 18 for $33. Pew purchase and rent was the way the church was financed.

Ezekiel continued to be a pillar of our community until his death in 1836. Of course he continued to appear in the census. Interestingly, in 1810 and 1820, his family included one female slave. I would love to know why Ezekiel and his wife purchased a young black girl (she was from 18-26 in the 1820 census). She remained with the couple in the 1830 census, though by then, of course, she was free.

The probate file of Ezekiel listed his many heirs: his brothers Lyman, Truman, and sisters and their many children. The most important one for us is Ezekiel, a son of his brother Truman. Ezekiel stayed on in Schaghticoke. I’m sure that to avoid confusion, he was always known as Ezekiel 2nd. to differentiate him from his uncle. He was the doctor of the 1840 census. Incidentally, that census entry includes one free black woman of the age to be the same who had been his uncle’s slave.

Ezekiel Baker 2nd was born in 1795 in Pittstown. He attended Williams College from 1810-1814, though apparently he did not graduate. Perhaps he mentored with his uncle Ezekiel to become a doctor as did Simon Newcomb, another of the 1840 census doctors. According to Anderson’s “History of Rensselaer County,” he was a local doctor for fifty-one years.

Ezekiel picked up right where his uncle left off, becoming a pillar of the Presbyterian Church. He was secretary of the meeting when it reorganized in 1831, was a clerk of the trustees for many years, and first president of the Sunday School. Ezekiel was also involved in local politics, attending Whig conventions in the county. He ran for state assembly and county coroner in the 1840’s and 1850. Anderson states that he was a strong abolitionist, and that his home was a stop on the underground  railroad in the 1850’s.  And he got involved in business matters as well.  Apparently he was one of a group of investors who held the mortgage on extensive mill properties of Ephraim Congdon on the Hoosic River. Ephraim defaulted in 1834, and the investors sold the property at auction.

Ezekiel was married to Harriet Bryon Bryan of Schaghticoke. They had six sons. David Bryon Baker, born in 1821, attended both Union and William Colleges. He was a doctor, but also town clerk of Schaghticoke as a young man, in 1843-1844. I’m sure he was tapped to be his father’s successor as town physician, but he died in 1847. He was married to Jenette C., and they had two small children. One of them, Calot, lived with his grandparents for a number of years.

The Baker’s second son, Charles, was born in 1823. Charles became a general merchant, and was in business in Schaghticoke until his death in 1896. Third son Robert was born and died in 1825. The fourth son, Lorenzo, was born in 1826. Though he became a merchant like brother Charles, he was also a tailor and concentrated on selling clothing. He must have been a bit more outgoing than Charles, or maybe more successful, as he rated a biography in Anderson’s “History of Rensselaer County.” Thus I know that he attended both the Greenwich, NY, and Manchester, Vt. Seminaries- the equivalent of high school- and then went on to work in Troy for a few years. Lorenzo returned home to become a clothing merchant and tailor in the village of Schaghticoke for the rest of his life.  He was also the town clerk in 1853-54, and held various positions in the government of the new village of Hart’s Falls (Schaghticoke) after 1867, as did brother Charles. Lorenzo was very successful, building the Baker Opera House about 1875. It had retail spaces on the first floor- including his own and his brother’s- and a theater upstairs, and was located where Sammy Cohen’s is today. Unfortunately it burned in a huge fire in 1880. Lorenzo survived until 1904.

Fifth son William Henry was born in 1829. He was listed in the 1850 census for Schaghticoke with his parents, and brothers Lorenzo, and John as a merchant, age 21. By the 1855 census he was gone, probably to Racine, Wisconsin, where he was listed in the 1860 census as a bookkeeper, with wife Mary and two small sons. He died before 1866, as he was listed in his father’s will as deceased.

Youngest son, John Ezekiel, was born in 1831. Though John studied medicine at Williams College, he also attended Union Theological Seminary in 1858 and became a Presbyterian Minister. I wonder if there was pressure for John Ezekiel to become a doctor as his oldest brother David Bryan had died. If so, John evidently persisted in the career for which he felt called.  He moved to Rochester, where he was a minister and prominent member of the community, living until 1894.

Father Ezekiel lived until 1866, long enough to see the death of two of his sons, and the success of the rest. Widow Harriet survived until 1872. All of the Schaghticoke Bakers are buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

Returning to the 1840 census, it also included three ministers in the list of “learned professors and engineers.” They were Hugh M. Boyd, Hawley Ransom, and J. H. Noble. I will begin with Hawley Ransom, as I know the least about him. He was born in Vermont in 1809. According to Sylvester’s “History of Rensselaer County,” he was an original member of the Troy Conference of Methodist Ministers in 1834, at which point he was serving at Schaghticoke Hill. That is the little community on Route 40 just south of where it is crossed by the Tomhannock Creek.  Hawley served as the justice of the peace in the town of Schaghticoke in 1843.He and wife Lucy moved to Northumberland in Saratoga  He must have felt quite a tie to the place, as when his first wife, Lucy, died in 1858, he had her buried in the little cemetery next to the church, even though he had moved to Northumberland in Saratoga County. The couple had stayed in Schaghticoke for a long time- at least from 1834 to 1855, as the 1855 census for Northumberland states that Hawley and Lucy had lived there for just two months. Oddly, Hawley, now 50, was listed as a shoemaker. Wife Lucy was also 50 and their two daughters, Margaret, 24, and Drucilla, 15, lived with them.

By the 1860 census for Northumberland, Lucy had died, and Hawley had remarried Catherine Strong. Hawley was again listed as a clergyman. He and Catherine, 35, lived with Abby, 20- presumably Drucilla called by a different name, and Harriet Strong, 40. She was Catherine’s sister, a milliner. The 1865 census shows the birth of a daughter, Josephine, to the couple, then 11 months old. This census lists Hawley as both farmer and minister- and this was probably the case in the censuses where he was listed as a shoemaker and farmer alone. Hawley died in 1873 and is buried in the Reynold’s Corners Cemetery in Moreau. Wife Catherine died in 1896 and is there as well.

Hugh M. Boyd was probably born in Schenectady in 1795. He graduated from Union College in 1813. He is listed in a book of the graduates of Union as a clergyman from Schenectady. As would befit a man from very Dutch-oriented Schenectady, Hugh was a Dutch Reformed minister. I don’t know where he was from 1813 to 1830, but I think he was in Saratoga as of 1830, based only on a census listing.  Hugh was the pastor at the Schaghticoke Dutch Reformed Church from 1835-1841. During that time he and his wife Mary Dorr had two daughters. Margaret was baptized in 1835 and Martha was born in 1836 and baptized April 30, 1837. This was a time when the church, the oldest and once the largest congregation in town, was shrinking.  He did marry 23 couples during that time, including one black couple, and baptized 25 children. After he left in 1841, it was seven years until another baptism was recorded. I don’t know where Hugh went after he left Schaghticoke, but he died in 1847 at age 52 and is buried in Vale Cemetery in Schenectady.

The third minister in the 1840 census is Reverend Dr. Jonathan Harris Noble, known in the records as “J.H.”  He was the minister at the Schaghticoke Presbyterian Church from 1837-1869. He was born in Vermont in 1804, the son of Obadiah, whom I think was also a minister. Jonathan was a graduate of Williams College in 1826 and the Princeton Theological Seminary in 1829. I’m not sure where J.H. was in the years before he came to Schaghticoke, though his interment record states he was in Tinmouth, Vermont at some point,  but he arrived here as an experienced minister. This was good for the church, as it had been suffering through schism in the previous ten years. J.H. brought stability. Unlike other prominent local men, J.H. stuck to his job, not getting involved in politics. This included participating in the larger Presbyterian synod and the national home and foreign missionary societies. Mrs. Noble participated as well. I found her listed in several publications of the American Tract Society in the 1840’s, for example, which published the pamphlets used by foreign missionaries.

That 1840 census includes J.H., and his wife Octavia, plus one other female aged 30-39, probably her sister Emily, plus one female age 10-14, presumably their daughter Mary Louisa. The 1850 census shows Jonathan, then 46, with his wife Octavia Porter, 43, her sister Emily, 50, and their mother Aurora, 85. I don’t know where Mary Louisa was. She appears in the 1855 census, aged 22. She had joined her father’s church the year before.   Emily and Amanda Porter continued to live with the family.  Johnathan also appeared in the 1855 NYS census as a farmer. He had twenty improved and ten unimproved acres worth $4000. He had grown seven acres of oats, two acres of corn and ten acres of potatoes the preceding year. He had 23 fowl, one cow, and one pig. So he primarily grew what his family needed.  Mary Louisa was also left out of the 1860 census, when J.H. and Octavia lived just with a servant, and in 1865, when the church records indicate she moved to Elizabeth, New Jersey.

Around the same time, in October 1865, the Albany Presbyterian Synod held its meeting in Schaghticoke. This must have been a real feather in J.H.’s cap. Unfortunately, his wife was ill and dying at the time. An article in the Troy “Daily Times” records that J.H. was amazing, being the good host of his fellow ministers while tending to his ill wife. Octavia is buried in Elmwood Cemetery. J.H. remarried, to a woman named Caroline, by November 1866, when she joined the Presbyterian Church.

The minutes of the Presbyterian Church session reveal that Rev. Noble proposed to resign in fall 1868. It took until the following June to find a replacement. This is reflected in the 1870 census for Schaghticoke, when J.H., now 65, and wife Caroline, 45, were living in the inn of Garrett Groesbeck, rather than in the brick manse.  But J.H.  did not retire. He went to Johnsonville by 1871. The Presbyterian Church had begun there in 1856, but I found J.H.’s name in a Presbyterian record of home missions in 1874. I’m not sure why the assignment in Johnsonville would be considered a mission, when it was already established. I did not find the Nobles in the 1880 census, but J.H. was still listed as being in Johnsonville in a newspaper article of 1882.

Sometime later, J.H. and Caroline Noble moved to Perth Amboy, New Jersey, presumably drawn by Mary Louisa living in that state, though there was a Ministers’ Home there, for retired pastors. J.H. and Caroline were living there when he wrote a letter to the local Synod, meeting in April 1896.  J.H. died later that month. He was buried from the Presbyterian Church in Schaghticoke, with seven fellow ministers taking part in the service. The 1900 census found Caroline in the Westminster Home in New Jersey. She died in 1901. Both are buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

Returning to the 1840 census, there were two lawyers among the “learned professors and engineers.  I have already written extensively about one of them, Herman Knickerbacker. He is one of the most famous residents in the history of the town. Unfortunately to me, this is because he was the model for Diedrich Knickerbacker in Washington Irving’s “Knickerbocker’s History of New York.” But he was also one of the first lawyers in town, U.S. Congressman from 1809-1811, Rensselaer County judge, and local businessman and mill owner. Virtually every deed involving Schaghticoke in the first forty or so years of the 19th century has Herman’s name in it somewhere, either as the lawyer handling the deal, a witness, or judge.

The second lawyer in the census was Nelson Moshier. He was born in 1806 in Dutchess County. He married Catherine Tice of Brunswick in 1833 at Gilead Lutheran Church.  He was the Schaghticoke Town Clerk in 1841 and a school commissioner about the same time. I have found Nelson as the lawyer in probate files and wills of the era.  By 1850 the family had moved to pioneer in Michigan. According to a biography on the find-a-grave website, he practiced law there and was a circuit court judge, and the first prosecuting attorney when Isabella County, Michigan was formed.  Nelson died in 1872 and is buried in Isabella County. I would love to talk to Nelson about his motivations for moving West. It was certainly becoming more and more common at the time.

So now I’ve written about some of the more prominent people in town. How about the others? Let me turn to the nine black families.  New York State’s gradual abolition of slavery had ended in 1829.  While there were 343 blacks in Schaghticoke in 1790, by 1820 there were 66 slaves and 30 free blacks, and by 1830 there were just 52 free blacks. The total of 76 in the 1840 census is actually a bit of an uptick. In a few cases, freed slaves stayed on in the families where they had been owned. For example, the elder Dr. Ezekiel Baker had had one female slave in 1820 and had one freed black female in 1830.

The nine black families in the 1840 census amounted to just over a third of the blacks in town. Interestingly, none is listed with an occupation, though they certainly all worked! As you will see, in most cases I was unable to find out much, if anything, about the families. This is partly because they were often illiterate, they were not taxed, and were not active in politics.  They also moved a lot, and lived in poor circumstances. They just weren’t much in the public record. The heads of household of these black families were Thomas Mando, Prince Jackson, Peter Williams, Thomas Robins, Peter Baker, James Hornbeck, James Franklin, Stephen Calvin, and Joseph Winney.

I do know a bit about one of the families.  There is a legend that Thomas Mando, who was listed in the census as over 55, with a female over 55 and one male under 10 in his family, may have been “Thomas Mandolin”, a former slave of the Knickerbacker family. He got his surname because he played the mandolin.  What is true is that he and his wife had also been a family in the 1830 census, right after the final abolition of slavery. At that point they had four children living with them.  It is possible that the young boy in the 1840 census was a grandchild. The couple was still in the 1850 census: Thomas, 83, and wife Hannah, 60. Thomas still listed his occupation as laborer, and they had a black girl named Margaret Fonda, 8, living with them.   One of their sons, also Thomas, and his wife Catherine and family were still in town as well. Their youngest child, Albert, then 4, became a composer and orchestra leader in New York City. I do not know where the elder Thomas Mando and his wife are buried, but the younger Thomas, wife Catherine (Katie), and several children, including Albert, are in the Methodist Cemetery at Schaghticoke Hill.

mando illo (1)

Prince Jackson and his wife were also in both the 1830 and 1840 census. In 1830, he was between 24-36 years old and she, 10-24.  In 1840 they were both listed as between 35-55 years old. In 1830, there was a second black Jackson family, that of Richard, with a family of four, but he was gone by 1840. And Prince and wife were also gone by 1850. Prince is a fairly common name for slaves, as was Jackson, so there were a half dozen men with that name in the New York area in 1850. I don’t think any of them was our Prince. So I will have to leave his story there.

Peter Williams is another black man who also appeared in the 1830 census. At that time, his family consisted of him, age 24-36, his wife, age 10-24, and a son under 10. The 1840 census listing is similar, with one male 24-36, one female 10-24, but this time one female under 10. There are definitely some issues with the accuracy of their ages. The Williams stayed on in town, and the 1850 census lists them as Peter, 45, a laborer born in New York, illiterate; his wife, Diana, just 23, also born in New York; and their son John, 3. This clearly was a second wife for Peter. That census also included Harriet Williams, a black girl aged 16, who worked for the family of Ormon Doty, and Nancy Williams, a black woman aged 27, who worked for the family of John Groesbeck. They could have been daughters of Peter. Nancy was still working for the Groesbecks as of the 1855 census, though her age was then listed as 41. She was born in Rensselaer County.

I did find that Peter and Diana moved to Waterford by 1860. Peter, now 55, and Diana, 28, had a daughter Sarah, 9.  Peter was a laborer, with a personal estate of $15. But I could not find them after that. It seems like a number of children passed in and out of the census listing for the couple. It is so difficult and frustrating to trace these people, handicapped by their race and their illiteracy, when we would love to know the whole story.

Thomas Robins was the last black man who appeared in both the 1830 and 1840 census. In 1830 his family included two males under 10, and one 36-54- that was Thomas- plus one female under 10, one from 10-23, one from 24-35, and one from 36-54. One of the older women was certainly his wife, but there must have been another woman who was neither child nor wife, plus perhaps three children. By the 1840 census, the family was reduced to just Thomas and his wife, both listed as over 55.

There is quite a twist by the 1850 census, when there was a Peter J. Robbins, a black man aged 35, working as a laborer on the Kenyon farm. Peter stayed on in town and served in the Civil War, returning by the 1865 census, when he was now listed as a 55 -year -old laborer, with a wife and young son. Peter could certainly have been one of the sons of Thomas. I cannot find Thomas and his wife for sure elsewhere in the 1850 census, as there are several couples with Thomas Robins as the head of household of the correct age in New York State.

Peter Baker was another black man with a family in the 1840 census, though not in 1830.  He was aged 24-35, and had a wife in the same age range, plus one daughter under 10. I feel this family had left town by 1850 and moved to Lansingburgh. In that census there was a Peter, aged 35, with wife Susan, aged 33, and daughter Mary, aged 14. I could not find them in the 1860 census, but in the 1865 NYS census, they were in the 1st Ward of Troy. Peter was a coachman, who had been married three times. His wife was now Sarah, aged 43, listed as a mulatto, while Peter was black. She was born in Maryland, and this was her second marriage. Interestingly, a 40-year-old  black man named Ebenezer Williams, a barber aged 40, lived with them. Could he have been another son of Peter Williams, our previous subject?? And another black family which had lived in Schaghticoke, the Hornbecks, lived next door. Unfortunately, I can’t find Peter past 1865.

James Holenbeck or Hornbeck had a family of four in the 1840 census. He was from 24-35 years of age, his wife the same age range, plus one son and one daughter under 10. I feel that he moved to Troy. Though I have not been able to find him in the 1850 or 1860 census, a James Hornbeck is in the Troy City Directory from 1857 on, listed as a porter who lived at 38 Fulton Street. The August 20, 1856 issue of the Troy “Daily Times” reported that James Hornbeck assisted the chairman of a “meeting of colored persons” at the Liberty Street Presbyterian Church in Troy. The meeting discussed propositions for blacks to get to right to vote, among other issues, reporting on a larger convention held recently in Seneca Falls.

There is a Joseph Hornbeck in both the 1850 and 1855 Schaghticoke censuses. In the former he was a 12-year-old black boy, who lived in the family of Nathan Overocker. In the latter, he was a laborer in the family of William Brown. He could have been a son of James.  As I mentioned above, I did find James Hornbeck and his family living next door to Peter Baker in Troy in the 1865 census. James, 65-years-old, was a laborer. He had a wife, Susan, age 64, born in Rhode Island, who had had eight children. A black couple, Thomas Moore, 26, born in New Jersey, and Rebecca Moore, 27, born in Saratoga, lived with them. By the 1870 Troy directory, James had died. Mrs. James Hornbeck lived at 119 Church Street. A Joseph Hornbeck lived in Troy as well.

James Franklin and his family also lived in town in 1840. James, aged 24-36, and his wife, aged 24-36, had two daughters, one under 10, one aged from 10-14. He was still here in the 1850 census: James, aged 40, a laborer born in New York, with wife Betsey, aged 28. If the ages are correct, this could be a different wife. What happened to the children? I have been unable to find James after this date.

I have been unable to discover anything more than their listing about two of the black families in the 1840 census. Stephen Calvin, a black man aged 36-55, and his wife, the same age, also lived in Schaghticoke as a family in 1840. The last black family in the 1840 census was that of Joseph Winney. Joseph was from 24-35 years old. He and his wife, the same age, had three small sons, under 10 years of age.

Unfortunately this census doesn’t indicate foreign born citizens, which would have been helpful to fill out this story of life in Schaghticoke in 1840. I know that the population of foreign born increased rapidly during this period, mostly due to an influx of mill workers and of Irish immigrants. There were enough Irish Catholics here for the Albany diocese to begin a church in 1841.

Now that I’ve discussed some of the individual families in town, I’d like to move on to discuss how people lived. Beyond generalities, I will use inventories of their estates from probate files to try to figure that out.  The problem with this method is that inventories can be more or less complete, but I can’t think of a better way.  In 1840 as now, there would be quite a range of prosperity. Earlier in this article, I gave the inventory of Revolutionary War veteran Nathaniel Robinson, whom we would hope was at the poorest end of the range. He owned no land, possessing just a few animals, a few dishes, and a few cooking utensils. Tellingly, his wife had a spinning wheel and a loom. She could process her own wool and make fabric, either for home use or to sell, impossible to know from the information given. The Robinsons certainly lived simply, cooking their food in the now old-fashioned way, over a fire outdoors or in a fireplace, getting water from a well, lighting with a candle or oil or grease lamp. They grew their own food as much as possible, and lived a simple life with no books, pictures on the wall, curtains at the windows, or rugs on the floor.

At the other end of the scale, was Munson Smith, a prominent local businessman and mill owner, who died in 1842. I have written of him before- it’s on my blog at www.schaghticokehistory.wordpress.com. Using the inventory of his estate in his probate file, we can intuit that the Smiths lived in a carpeted home, with curtains at some of the windows and inside shutters on others. A lot of the furniture was mahogany, with matching chairs at the dining table. They had large sets of matching dishes (39 plates in one set!!), with specialized dishes for gravy, custard, fruit, and other foods. While there was some plain glassware, some was cut glass, and they had specialized wine glasses. Some of the silverware had ivory handles, some was silver.

astral lamp

astral lamp

Several bedrooms were furnished with maple, mahogany, and cherry beds, small tables, chairs, and dressers, with a mirror on each wall, and lots of bed linens of different types. This was in the pre-bathroom era, so there were several wash bowl and pitcher sets, for washing in the bedrooms. While there were fireplaces, the rooms were also heated with cast iron stoves, probably set into the fireplaces and using their flues.  There were candles on the mantelpieces, but they also had the latest Astral lamp. There were also several clocks. The inventory lists the kitchen stove, plus pots and pans of brass, tin, and iron.  The kitchen range with a cook top was a relatively recent advance over open hearth cooking. It may have been either coal or wood burning.

Munson’s office was either in or attached to his house. It contained office furniture, plus a bedroom, furnished, and his library of about 60 volumes. This was a substantial library for the time.  Munson’s wearing apparel is not itemized in the inventory, but was valued at $21. This doesn’t seem like much, but considering that the kitchen stove was worth $12, it is quite a lot.

I’ve been trying to find an inventory of a less wealthy person who was not a farmer to contrast with Munson Smith. This is not easy to do. I did find that of Henry Thompson, who died in town in 1845. He left a widow and five children, two under 21. His widow Sarah stated his “goods and chattels” were not worth more than $250.  Henry left one cow and one swine,  and there was some basic  agricultural material,  a scythe, a straw cutter, a potato hook, a plough There was one horse, two wagons, two “cutters”- sleighs, a saddle and harness of different kinds. This would have provided transportation for the family and his business. He also had the tools of a carpenter: a cross cut saw, grindstone, six planes, an adze, chains, a square, five moulding tools, a set of framing chisels, a hammer, a broad axe, a circular saw, a smooth plane and gauge, plus some wood: two sets of boat plans, a lot of birch planks, and another lot of planks. Was he a carpenter who built boats?

Henry’s widow retained a wagon, two stands, a rag carpet, a bureau, a table, six chairs, and a looking glass as her widow’s portion. The rest of the household furniture consisted of just four beds with their bedding, two stoves, cooking utensils not detailed, one table, six chairs, six knives and forks plus other crockery, one spinning wheel, and library and school books. I’m glad to see the books, as the rest of the furnishings seem basic to say the most.

I did find widow Sarah in the 1850 census for Pittstown. She was 47 years old, born in New York, and had real estate worth $600. In her household were her sons Peter, a 20 -year-old carpenter, Isaac, 10, and Bryan, 6, and a Michael Thompson, 43, born in Ireland, who was a laborer- perhaps her brother-in-law. So I think Henry was a carpenter, and probably an Irish immigrant, who died when his youngest child was just one. She had moved, but not far, and had a place to live.

Let’s look at the probate file of John Baucus, who died in 1832 at 59. He was a farmer who lived near the current town hall. He and his family attended the Lutheran Church, and he is buried in the cemetery at the junction of Melrose-Valley Falls Road and North Line Drive.   In the 1830 census for Schaghticoke, John, age 50-59, had a wife the same age plus one son from 10-14, two from 15-19, one from 20-29, and two daughters from 10-14.  The inventory of his estate gives us insight into a prosperous farm of the period. He had nine horses, seven cows, four young cattle, four calves, and a pair of oxen, plus 50 sheep, 15 pigs, 18 hogs, and one boar, 13 geese, and some chickens. At that time, there was a woolen mill in the village of Schaghticoke, a market for the wool.

Turning to farm equipment, John had  five ploughs, a fanning mill,  two ox carts,  three sleighs, an ox sled, three wagons of different kinds, two drags, five pitch forks, two dung forks, four rakes, a patent rake, a stone boat (for moving stones), four hoes, some shovels, and other miscellaneous tools. John also left large quantities of hay, stored in several different barns, 500 bushels of corn, 300 bushels of wheat, “a lot of oats in the barrack,” potatoes “in the hole” and 100 other bushels of potatoes and 15 bushels of buckwheat. A barrack is a temporary barn structure. I feel that potatoes were stored in a hole constructed for that purpose, like a root cellar.

Plowing-hard work 1830

plowing at the Farmers Museum in Cooperstown

John’s widow was allowed to keep items apart from probate that were essential for herself and her “infant children” to live. There were five children in this category. She kept ten of the sheep, one cow and four pigs, plus the only household furnishings included in the inventory. There were kitchen utensils- pots, a brass kettle, a frying pan- plus two stoves, 25 chairs, six tables, and four looking glasses. There were seven beds, 30 blankets, 15 pairs of sheets, and 15 pairs of pillow cases, plus two sets of curtains, two carpets, four other window curtains,  eight table cloths, one stand (small table), a wooden clock,  and a bureau (dresser). This seems like plenty of chairs, mirrors, and bedding, but too little clothes storage, although there were two chests and two cupboards- but they might have been for food or dish storage.

Mrs. Baucus had two sets of dishes, one fine, one every day, two sets of knives and forks, two decanters, six tumblers, and 15 wine glasses. A stove for cooking is not mentioned, though there is a furnace. I am not sure what was meant by that- certainly not what we would think of as a source of central heat. It could have been a stove for heating flat irons.   The only lighting implements on the list are three candle sticks, though there could have been various kinds of oil lamps. There were also a churn and a wash tub. The inclusion of a loom, two big and one small- spinning wheels-  plus 35 yards of yarn, 44 yards of cloth, and eight pounds of rolls (probably the rolags from which yarn would be spun), suggest household manufacture from the fleeces of those sheep. The family also had two Bibles and twenty other books. To us this would seem like a pretty short list of household goods for a family of eight compared to the extensive inventory of farm equipment, the harvest, and animals, but it was a different time.

Elijah Bryan was another farmer in town. He died in 1842 aged 79. His wife had died the previous year. They lived south of Hemstreet Park, probably near where they are buried in a little cemetery near the junction of River and Pinewoods Roads.  While his inventory presumably reflects that of a couple mostly retired from farming, it does reveal how they lived. And there is a pretty good list of Elijah’s wardrobe. He had nine cotton shirts, four woolen shirts,  three pairs of linen trousers, a pair of pantaloons,  three pairs of woolen drawers (boxers), vests, one coat, a cloak, 15 pairs of stockings, two pairs of boots and one pair of shoes, two hats, two walking canes, and one silk handkerchief. I am not sure of the difference between trousers and pantaloons. This seems like lots of stockings and not enough handkerchiefs. Of course we can’t know the accuracy of an inventory from 150 years ago, and it does lists two separate lots of “old clothes,” which might balance things out.

As to the contents of the house, the inventory includes only candles as the source of light. There are several bee hives and lots of honey on the list, so it’s no surprise that the candles were of beeswax.  There was one stove for heating and one for cooking. Most of the cooking and dining utensils were not described in detail, but there were 15 blue plates and six silver teaspoons. Likewise, most of the furniture was not described, except for one cherry table. There were six fancy chairs and six “flag bottom” chairs, plus 12 old chairs. Elijah and Eunice had one looking glass, a Bible, and “a lot of books”, valued at 12 cents. This is “lot” as in a group, not many. There was the equipment for taking care of the clothing- a clothes basket, clothes horse (drying rack), wash tub,  and irons, plus food storage- baskets and barrels, kegs,  stone pots (stoneware), firkins, casks,  and boxes. The house was carpeted to some extent, but it’s hard to tell how much as the list has “1 carpet the largest,” valued at $2.00 and “1 carpet the smallest,” valued at $3.25.


flag-bottom chair

The bedding in the house reflected the house when Elijah and Eunice’s children were home: several bedsteads, three feather beds, four straw ticks (alternative mattress, not as comfortable as feathers), plus 30 linen sheets, 17 woolen sheets, and 1 cotton sheet. I think Eunice must have enjoyed textiles, as the inventory includes a number of “coverlids”: two carpets, two blue and white, two red and white, and one black and white, plus three quilts and three comforters.

The couple had just one horse and one heifer, and, interestingly, “one half of a 1 horse wagon.” Perhaps the wagon was shared with a son or daughter? There were just a few tools: a hoe and a bog hoe, a scythe, a cross cut saw, and an axe. As I said, they must have been mostly retired from farming, so perhaps there were more animals a few years earlier. Certainly Mrs Bryan must have had some chickens.


Next let’s look at the inventory of Eliphel Gifford, widow of Caleb.  She died in 1838 and is buried in St. John’s Lutheran Cemetery in Melrose.  Caleb died in 1817, so she had been on her own for a long time. She had two cows, a boar and 12 sows, ten chickens- identified as “dunghill fowl”, and a pair of geese- kind of a basic set of animals for daily use. There was hay and corn to feed them. She had some potatoes, vinegar, “a lot of pork in the barrel,” apples, and “a lot of lard,” plus equipment to store and process food: stone jars, baskets, 13 milk pans, pails, iron pots, tubs, hogsheads, a cheese press- needed for making cheese,  and three flour barrels.  She had “a lot of soap”- indicating she made her own, as probably most farm wives did. Eliphel also had both a parlour stove, “one premium stove No. 3”, and a cookstove, plus lots of wood already cut. These stoves place her in the modern world- heating and cooking with stoves, rather than fireplaces.  Her bakeware was made of tin, brass, and iron. She had five wooden bowls and two sugar boxes. There was no detailing of any special dishes or silverware, no mirror, no clock, no carpets, and just three books- a Bible and two others.

We hope her children had already taken the furniture they wanted by the time the inventory was taken, as the furniture consisted of just one rocking chair, one stand, one table, one cot, one bedstead, one set of homemade curtains,  and one lantern. There were no other lighting devices on the list.  There were four cotton sheets, four pillow cases, two calico quilts, one comforter, and two flannel sheets. There was a separate listing of a bed and bedding, valued at $15, the highest valued items on the list outside the livestock.

The appraisers made a list of the “wearing apparel of the dead:” five gowns, three short gowns, three petticoats, two check aprons, three pairs linen stockings, two pairs woolen stockings, nine handkerchiefs, a “bandbox hood ,” five caps, one pair of stays (a form of girdle/bra), one woolen shawl, one velvet cloak, five chemises, and one white cotton chemise. Again, one hopes her children had taken some of her clothes, as there are no shoes on this list, and some very old-fashioned garments- a set of stays, and chemises- which were like today’s slips with sleeves. The short gowns and petticoats would go together, the petticoats being outerwear and not underwear like today. Those are 18th century terms, however. It is possible that Eliphel, as an elderly lady, preferred to wear old fashioned clothes.  I do not know what a “bandbox hood” might be, though there were 18th century hoods with interior hoops that might be stored in a bandbox- what we might call a hat box.


The inventory of the estate of Alexander A. Miller, who died at age 27 in 1826, also lists his wearing apparel. This young man, who left a widow and small daughter, was a non-commissioned officer in the local infantry regiment in the New York State Militia. It seems from the inventory that he was a farmer, though it also lists a set of blacksmith tools.  Except for a wagon, the most valuable thing in his estate was a cloak worth $40. His uniform cloak with epaulette was worth $20. He also had a sword, sash, and military hat, plus a feather- probably for the hat. He owned four pairs of pantaloons, three broadcloth coats, and a blue surtout coat (also called a frock coat, probably knee length), an old black silk vest, an old hat, two pairs of old shoes, and another cloak, this one worth $12, also seven shirts and six cravats (like ties), a pair of gloves and a pair of mittens, five pairs of socks and one pair of suspenders. Tantalizingly, he also owned a bass viol worth $8. He also had a silver watch, and two pocket books (like a wallet).

Turning to the business side of the inventory, Alexander had five cows and one calf, seven old sheep and six lambs, eight shoats (young pigs) in the pen, 216 fowls, one mare and her colt. He had fifty loads of manure, ¾ ton of hay, 40 bushels of rye, a lot of potatoes in the ground, lots of wood and coal. The most interesting part of the inventory may be that Alexander had been in charge for the past two years of the “committee of the lunatic” which took care of George Miller, a lunatic. George evidently had an estate to pay for his care, but the estate hadn’t reimbursed Alexander for about $650 he had spent. This is a very large sum for the time. After a lot of research, I’ve concluded that George was Alexander’s father.  Alexander’s untimely death must have caused even more than the usual grief and chaos. He left a young widow and child, plus the problem of who would take care of his mentally ill father. I’m sure he also left friends and family sad at the death of such a promising young father, citizen, musician, and farmer.

So what can we conclude about life in Schaghticoke in 1840 from this admittedly limited sample? Farm families were as self-sufficient as possible. Inventories show equipment to process and store food, make candles, soap and other basics. Most farms had a variety of animals.  Some women processed their own wool and flax at home.  At the least they made their own clothes. Most families had stoves for cooking and heating, having advanced from fireplaces.  Wealthier families had a few special pieces of furniture and glassware or dishes- for example a cherry table or a few silver spoons. Some of this material may have been heirlooms passed down in the family. While people had small wardrobes by our standards, they owned a few more clothes than families fifty years earlier. Most people had a mirror or two, perhaps a clock, and at least a few books. As to farm tools, most were basic- ploughs, wagons, drags, shovels, etc., but a few new items appeared: a fanning mill, for example. Men had blacksmith and logging tools. Farmers grew the feed for their animals and grain to grind for flour. Some farmers specialized, for example growing sheep for the local woolen mills or lots of poultry, presumably for the local market as well.




Anderson, “History of Rensselaer County”

Baucus, John, probate file, Rensselaer County Historical Society

Bryan, Elijah, probate file, Rensselaer County Historical Society


Gifford, Eliphel, probate file, Rensselaer County Historical Society

Miller, Alexander, probate file

Newcomb, John Bearse Genealogy of the Newcomb Family, Elgin, Ill, 1874.

Probate files Isaac Tallmadge 158; Henry P.Strunk 137

Robinson, Nathaniel, Revolutionary War pension application

Schaghticoke cemetery records

Smith, Munson, probate file. In the archives, Rensselaer County Historical Society

Transcript of the Records of the Schaghticoke Dutch Reformed Church, 1903.

Troy  “Daily Whig”, Oct 3, 1837, Oct 15, 1851, June 15, 1860, Feb 9, 1844, Sept. 1848

Troy “Daily Times”- article on Presbyterian Synod in 1865, mention of Noble in 1882, obit 1896,  Aug 20, 1856, Sept 30, 1851, May 5, 1854

Union College, “A General Catalogue of the Officers, Graduates, and students of Union College,

1795-1868, pub. Munsell, Albany, 1868.

Williams College; General Catalogue of the Non-Graduates, 1920.

Williams College; General Catalogue of the Officers and Graduates of Williams College, 1910.















By Rail through Schaghticoke and beyond



This fall my husband and I had a wonderful train trip through the town of Schaghticoke. Every year Amtrak runs a fall excursion train one weekend. Train buffs from all over the country ride. This year the trip was from Albany to East Deerfield, Massachusetts…..with the centerpiece of the 10 hour day a journey through the 4.75 mile long Hoosac Tunnel. This was the first time a passenger train had been through the tunnel in at least thirty years. Yes, that was great, but for me as town historian, a trip by train through my town was the high point- twice, actually, as we retraced our journey on the way back.

We boarded in Albany with about 450 other folks early in the a.m., headed for Schenectady on the regular passenger rail. There we diverted to the north, on a freight line, through Saratoga County to Mechanicville, going through the new Intermodal Yard, crossing the Hudson River on the very high bridge to the north of where Route 67 crosses the river. Then we entered Schaghticoke, headed slowly south, crossing route 67 just to the west of Hemstreet Park on the grade crossing, then making a big swing to the east through the woods, crossing under route 40 just south of the village of Schaghticoke. We crossed Electric Lake and headed for Johnsonville, paralleling Route 67 and the Hoosic River. After passing through Pownall, Vermont, we skirted the north edge of North Adams, Massachusetts. The Hoosac Tunnel passes under a mountain of the same name, and we emerged near East Deerfield, Massachusetts, following the Deerfield River through the woods. There is a big railroad yard there, where we could do a three-point turn on the tracks and head back the same way.

hoosac tunnel map

For me the highlights in Schaghticoke were first, crossing the Hudson River on that c. 1900 bridge, and second, following the former right-of-way of the short-lived Albany-Northern Railroad, just to the west of route 40. In 1859 the railroad’s bridge over the Tomhannock collapsed under the weight of a train, killing about a dozen people and really ending that railroad company. Last, it was great to see the views of the Brock Farm, the village of Schaghticoke, and the sites of the old Schaghticoke Powder Mill from the middle of Electric Lake. The most surprising part of the trip was that at least twenty cars full of people followed our train by road, both going and coming, taking photos of the train at every road crossing.


Of course the trip through the Hoosac Tunnel was exciting, and very, very dark. It took about twelve minutes to go through. Let’s look back at the construction of this engineering marvel. Ground was broken in 1848, with the route beneath Hoosac Mountain to form part of the railroad from Troy to Boston. There really wasn’t technology invented to be able to dig a five-mile tunnel under a mountain, so the project went very slowly for many, many years. The original railroad, the Troy and Greenfield, finally defaulted in 1862, as the Civil War raged. Post-war, new drilling and explosive technology- this was the first commercial use of nitroglycerin- made it possible to finally complete the tunnel. A violent explosion in 1867 killed thirteen workers and resulted in no work for a year, but finally the tunnel was completed and the first train went through in 1875. It was the second longest tunnel in the world. It is still the longest active tunnel east of the Rocky Mountains.


By the 1880’s 85-90 trains passed through the tunnel each day. It had been widened to allow double tracks throughout. It was still a dangerous journey as the tunnel was filled with smoke from the steam trains and the air got so bad by the end of five miles that the trains didn’t work well and the operators had to lie on the floor of the cab to get enough air to breathe. The route was electrified, but that never worked well, even as the traffic increased to 70,000 cars per month by 1913, and only the arrival of diesel engines about 1945 resulted in more comfortable and safe passage through the tunnel. Passenger traffic ceased in 1958…until our trip in fall 2015.

hoosac tunnel

I have talked to several people who have walked through the tunnel- they don’t recommend the journey, as it was very dark and dangerous. There are quite a few illustrated accounts online of walks through the tunnel, and lots more information on its construction.   If you would like to see at least the portals of the tunnel, it is possible to drive close to the eastern portal, near North Adams, Massachusetts, then walk to look at it.  As for viewing the railroad in Schaghticoke, I think that if one is careful, one could walk all along the route, with the exceptions of the causeway over Electric Lake, and of course the bridge across the Hudson River!

The Next Chapter of the Schaghticoke Powder Mill


It’s time to return to one of the signature industries of Schaghticoke, black powder manufacturing. As I have already written, the Schaghticoke Powder Mill was begun in order to produce powder for the U.S. military in the War of 1812. Josiah, James, and Nicholas Masters, sons of James Masters, who had brought his family to Schaghticoke from Fairfield, Connecticut about 1781, founded the mill. Josiah had been a U.S. Congressman just before the war, and certainly his political connections had something to do with its founding.  The mill was located on the north bank of the Tomhannock Creek, just west of where it crosses Route 40.  If you wish to read more about the Masters and the founding of the mill, I suggest you check out my earlier post about the Masters.

As I begin what will be a very long post, I want to say that I have worked on this opus for a very long time. I began my research with Peril in the Powder Mills: Gunpowder and its Men by Anne Kelly Lane and David McMahon, which gives basic history of the mills. They did lots of great research. I have found out more about the men who led the powder mill throughout its history.

So beginning with the founders of the mill, though I think that all three Masters brothers, Josiah, James, and Nicholas, were involved in the mill, upon Josiah’s sudden death in 1822, the mill was sold to Nicholas for $1059 + $159 interest.  So Josiah had owned the mill in deed. James died in 1828.  Nicholas was 77. The mill remained solely in the control of the Masters family until 1836.  Nicholas died in 1838, so hung on almost until his death.

At the point of Josiah Masters’ death in 1822, the mill was not growing. Josiah reported in the U.S. 1820 census of manufactures that “When we were at war with Britain (1812-1815) gunpowder could not be imported and so a profit was to be made.  At present, owing to the introduction of foreign gunpowder into our country, my business has decreased by more than half.  This can only be remedied by a heavy duty on foreign powder which takes the preference in market not because it is superior in quality but because of the predilection of the American people in favor of foreign manufactures.” (Kloppott )  The Masters owned considerable farm lands, so at least they had other sources of income.

Nicholas Merritt, son of Nicholas, carried on in the family business.  Presumably he had the interest to do so over his brother and male cousins. Nicholas, Sr. and his wife Sally Phelps had had two sons.  Albert Phelps, who was born in 1782 in Schaghticoke, lived in Vermont for the middle part of his life, returned to town by 1840, and died as a farmer in Schaghticoke in 1854.  Nicholas Merritt, born in 1790, became the powder maker. Turning to the other original partners,  James had a daughter, Fanny, who married Munson Smith, a local miller and entrepreneur, and five sons, but four died young, and the other, Robert, was a farmer in Galway, Saratoga County. Josiah, the former owner of the company, also had a number of children, but they all left town. Josiah’s first wife died young, and their children were sent away to school. His second wife moved away after his death with their children, who were very young when their father died. So Nicholas M., son of Nicholas and grandson of James, was left as the one who carried on in the family business.

Nicholas Merrit Masters graduated from Union College in Schenectady in 1812, according to their catalog of graduates.  His son John’s obituary indicated that he graduated from Williams College, but I did not find that to be true. He was educated as a lawyer. He married Ann F. Thomas (b. 1796) of Sandy Hill in Washington County in 1815. They had three children, two daughters who died young, and son John T., who was born in Troy in 1819. John graduated from Union College in 1831.

Besides operating the powder mill, Nicholas was a lawyer, surrogate judge of the county from 1818-1820, justice of the peace in Schaghticoke from 1828-1829, a New York State assemblyman at least twice, supervisor of the town of Schaghticoke in 1841-1842, and in general very involved in politics. After his term as surrogate, Nicholas was always referred to as Judge Masters. While surrogate, Nicholas was nominated as a Republican candidate for State Assembly. He also sat on the central committee of the county party.

As I said, Nicholas served as a NYS assemblyman at least twice, in 1832, as a Republican, and in 1855, as a Democrat or a “Soft Know-Nothing.” He was a Democratic Presidential elector in the 1844 election of James K. Polk.  At a Republican gathering in Troy in 1855, a letter from “the venerable” Nicholas was read aloud, and “received with rounds of applause…every sentence of his letter was loudly cheered.”  He was a delegate to the State Republican convention in 1858. I am not going to try to explain all the changes in those political parties in the 19th century, but suffice it to say that the parties were very different than they are today, and went through many, many changes of names and philosophies.

I have found that prominent men in the 19th century were involved in many activities. This was true of Nicholas M.  Besides working as a lawyer, judge, and politician, he was a trustee of the Presbyterian Church in Schaghticoke for many years. He was one of three commissioners of the Pittstown Bridge Company, established as a corporation by the NYS Legislature in 1825.  In 1848, he and others applied to the county board of supervisors to rebuild that toll bridge, so he remained involved for many years. He held the mortgage on former judge and Congressman Herman Knickerbacker’s property, foreclosed upon his death in 1855. Herman owned water rights on the Tomhannock Creek affecting the powder mill, so this investment may have been both a friendly and a strategic one.  Nicholas, his son, and several other powder mill executives even bought property in Brooklyn in the 1850’s.  Nicholas had his fingers in many local and statewide pies.

Let’s look at Nicholas M. in the census. In 1850, the first census to give much information, Nicholas was 60, with real estate worth $10,000. His occupation was still manufacturer, though there were a number of younger men in charge at the powder mill by this date. I believe that he lived in the house now occupied by Linda and Andy Bunk, just south of the bridge over the Hoosic River on Route 40.  By 1855 he had real estate worth just $3000, and was listed as a farmer. He and wife Ann lived with just one servant.  He had moved, as the 1856 map of the town shows his farm on the east side of today’s Akin Road, to the north of Masters Street. By 1860 he was listed as a “gentleman”, with real estate worth $3500, and a personal estate of $1000. By 1870 he had moved to live with his son John T. in Greenwich. He died in 1872. The railroad put on a special train to take mourners from Johnsonville to Greenwich for the funeral. He is not buried in the family cemetery or in Elmwood.

cath rectory

Before being the rectory, this was the home of at least two powder makers: Riley Loomis and John T. Masters

John T. Masters started on the track to take over from his father at the powder mill, but got derailed by politics and an advantageous marriage. John went to Union College with Chester A. Arthur, the future President, and formed a friendship that was maintained for life. In 1839 he married the daughter of Mr. Mowry, who owned a metal tea tray factory in Greenwich, and moved there, going into business with his father-in-law. He did list “gun powder manufacturer” as his occupation in the 1855 census. The next year, he sold his house in Schaghticoke, later the rectory of St. John’s Catholic Church. I think he left the mill at that point.  Prominent in Republican politics, he was appointed the Internal Revenue Collector for the Washington and Rensselaer County District just before the Civil War, then his friend Arthur brought him into the Adjutant’s office with him during the war. He continued to work for the Department of War, keeping his position even after the death of his patron Arthur in 1888. He died in 1894.

As the Masters left, other men joined the management of the powder mill as the 19th century progressed. All were immigrants to town from New England. The first was Wyatt R. Swift. According to “Landmarks of Rensselaer County” by George Anderson, Wyatt was born in Monmouth, Maine in 1798. After receiving a “good education” Wyatt was “sent” to Schaghticoke to superintend the Joy Linen Mills. Benjamin Joy of Boston built the mill, with his brother Charles as his local agent.  The 1855 census reports that Wyatt had been here for 28 years, which would put his arrival at 1827.  He does not show up in either the 1830 or 1840 census, though he was certainly here. After Benjamin Joy died in 1829, Wyatt left the mill and “purchased a controlling interest in the Schaghticoke Powder Mills and became its general manager,” again according to Anderson. I think this is a little off in date.   Wyatt was still running the Joy Mill in 1831, when Richard Hart conducted a local mill census. According to McMahon and Lane in “Peril in the Powder Mills”, Wyatt joined the powder mill in 1836, and the company was then called Masters and Swift.

Like other prominent men of his era, Wyatt was involved in many aspects of the life of his new community. Right from the start, he was master of the Homer Masonic Lodge, serving from 1828-1834. He also attended state masonic conventions. In 1831 he was a stockholder of the canal bank. He was also involved in politics, acting as delegate to many Rensselaer County Whig Conventions, serving as Supervisor of the town in 1859, and running again in 1860 though he was defeated. At the same time he was a director of the Troy and Boston Railroad and of the Commercial Bank, along with many prominent Trojans.

Also early in his life in our community, Wyatt was extremely active in the Temperance movement. He was the President of the Schaghticoke Temperance Society in 1832 and 1833, and attended State Conventions on its behalf. The local society had 530 members, an astonishing total in a small community. In 1832 he reported “we have much to encourage us to persevere in the cause of temperance; we have had three public meetings at which addresses were made on the subject.”

Like all of the other officers and owners of the powder mill, Wyatt was a member of the Presbyterian Church. He joined in 1839, though he had certainly attended before that. At the same time he became a trustee of the church, a position he held until his death, and also served as chorister- director of the choir, and superintendent of the Sunday school.  In 1846 he was a member of the building committee, charged with constructing a new church on the same site as the old.

I think that Wyatt married at the relatively advanced age of 52, in 1850, to Maria O. Morris, age 25, daughter of Jedediah and Olive Morris of Connecticut. The article about him in Anderson’s “Landmarks of Rensselaer County” gives that date. He states that she and her parents came here from Connecticut about 1824. Indeed Jedediah does appear in the 1830 and 1840 census. His wife Olive was baptized in the Presbyterian Church in 1826 and Jedediah a couple of years later. The record adds that he died in 1841. The 1850 census captures the new family: Wyatt a manufacturer with real estate worth $4000, wife Maria, and her mother Olive Morris, aged 52, plus two Irish servants, one male, one female.  The Swifts lived next door to William Bliss, a bookkeeper in the mill, and his wife Ann, both just south of the Catholic Church on Route 40, across the street and south of the home of Nicholas Masters.

An article in the Troy “Daily Whig” in March 1844 records the next change in the powder mill ownership. The Schaghticoke and Tomhannock Powder Mills, known as “Masters, Swift, and Company”, was now to be called Loomis, Swift, and Masters. The Loomis was Riley Loomis, whom I will discuss later. The Masters involved were Nicholas M. and his son John T. They will “Hereafter keep at their works a constant supply of blasting, sporting, and rife powder in kegs and canisters, which they will sell on reasonable terms.”


A big question as far as I’m concerned is just when the powder mills moved from the Tomhannock Creek, west of where it crosses Route 40, to the Hoosic River. I was always told that the move was in 1849, but I have found no primary source that mentions that at all. The “Powder Mill Farm”, located where the powder mill came to be on the Hoosic, south of Valley Falls and north of what is now the Brock farm- then the Myer farm- was purchased before 1835.  The 1856 map of the town shows operations in both locations. Clearly by the Civil War, all powder operations were on the Hoosic, while the keg shop remained on the Tomhannock. A letter written by E.L. Prickett, a 20th century superintendent of the factory, indicates that the company had “ a complete powder plant, a saltpeter refinery, the keg factory, and charcoal kilns,” to make the charcoal needed in the manufacturing process, and that it only produced about 200 pounds of powder per day in 1836. Evidently information on the location of the mills was so well known as not to need comment.

scoke hill 1856

From the 1856 map of the Town of Schaghticoke- powder mill and keg factory on the Tomhannock Creek

One of the constant themes of powder making is the explosions which were inevitable in the process. The buildings of the mill were always very small and located quite far apart from each other. Charcoal needed in the process was made at a distance. The idea was that the inevitable explosions would be as small as possible, and that one explosion wouldn’t go on to cause another. “Peril in the Powder Mills” has a page-long list of fatalities in explosions over the years. An article in the Troy “Times” in 1929 quoted editor of the Schaghticoke “Sun” on his “complete” list of explosions. I have found a few others reported in newspapers all over the country over the years.

Charcoal making

Most of the explosions occurred in one of the wheel mills, where the ingredients of black powder, charcoal, sulfur, and potassium nitrate, were mixed together and there was the greatest chance of sparks from friction. Wheel mills weighed up to eight tons and rotated in large cast iron pans with the addition of some water. This could be a very volatile process. Then the powder went to the press house, where it was squeezed into one-inch thick cakes. The powder was extremely flammable in this state. It then went to the corning mill, where the hard cakes were ground to smaller pieces.  This was occasionally a site of trouble as well. The powder was sorted by sifting through screens, glazed with graphite, and packed into kegs or cans. There was a need for extreme care all along the way. One explosion at Schaghticoke was of powder stored in a railroad car.


Wheel mill

The earliest report of an explosion at the mill that I have found was in March, 1840, when the St. Lawrence “Republican” stated, “ About 3 o’clock on Monday morning last, the powder mill of Messrs. Masters and Swift of Schaghticoke blew up. No lives were lost. It contained about 60 kegs of powder.”

The November 28, 1848  Oneida “Morning Herald” reported, “The cylinder mill of the Tomhannock Powder Works, owned by Messrs Loomis, Swift, and Masters, of Schaghticoke, exploded, says the Troy Budget, on Thursday morning last at about 4 o’clock. The building contained 64 kegs of powder in an unfinished state. Loss from $1000 to $1500. The building was blown to atoms. Fortunately no lives were lost.” This indicates that the mill was still on the Tomhannock. I would assume that the cylinder mill was another term for the wheel mill.


Reproduction casks of powder at Fort Stanwix

The first explosion listed in “Peril in the Powder Mills” was in 1849, when John Kewley and John Gallagher died. I cannot find any mention of this explosion in the newspapers of the time. I wish I could as this might have indicated where the mill was.   I know that John Gallagher left a family: wife Roseann, 34, born in Ireland, plus five children aged 10 to 3, all born in New York. And John Kewley left wife Jane Kane Kewley, born on the Isle of Man, aged 35, plus five children aged 14 to 2 and his mother-in-law, Margaret Kane. He had been in town since at least 1840, according to the census. His family stayed in town. Margaret Kane died in 1879 and Jane Kewley in 1900. John and both women are buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

The Powder Company had grown tremendously since the 1830’s.  When the Crimean War began in 1854, Great Britain and its opponent, Russia, both turned to the U.S. to supply gunpowder. Hazard in Connecticut, DuPont in Delaware, and Schaghticoke were all sources of powder. The 1855 NYS census captures the volume made here. The real estate at Loomis, Swift, and Masters was worth $22,000, the tools $2000. In 1854 they had used 700,000  (or 70,000- unclear writing) pounds of saltpeter, worth $49,000; 95,000 pounds of brimstone (sulfur), worth $2850; and 400 cords of wood, worth $1800, to produce 38,000 kegs of blasting powder worth $76,000. The mill operated by water powder and employed 15 men, paid $33 per month. This was a high wage, based on the danger of the work.  A separate operation, definitely on the Tomhannock, made the kegs. It had $3500 worth of real estate and $1000 worth of tools.  200,000 feet of lumber worth $2500 and 456,000 hoops worth $1375 very naturally made 38,000 kegs, worth $6,500. The mill was also powered by water and employed six men who made $24 per month.

In the midst of the war production, on November 17, 1855, there was another explosion. The Troy paper reported that “The principal grinding mill was greatly damaged by the explosion, which was supposed to have been caused by friction. One of the employees was fatally injured, having been struck upon the head by a large piece of stone.” According to “Peril in the Powder Mills,” two men died: Benjamin Neal and Edward Delaney.  I haven’t found either of them in the census. The diary of William and Frank May records that Delaney and a man named Peter Cook or Coon died in an explosion on May 7, 1859, and that a man named John Burdick died in another explosion in October 1859. These details vary with the source, so I guess the message is that there were frequent explosions with one or two fatalities.

In 1856 there was another change in ownership of the powder mill. Riley Loomis and “Masters” left the masthead, and the new firm was Swift, Bliss, Greeley, and Company. I will discuss Bliss and Greeley later. John T. Masters, son of Nicholas M., was still involved in the company, though he sold his house in Schaghticoke that same year, and had married a girl in Greenwich. I would say that his absence from the title of the company indicated that his involvement in the mill was decreasing.

The Schaghticoke Powder Company was incorporated in 1858, with Wyatt Swift as its President. This meant that it was now owned in stock shares. I think these shares were closely held, by just the officers of the company.  By the 1860 census Wyatt’s occupation was just listed as “gunpowder”, and he had $19,000 in real estate, with a personal estate of $600. He and his wife had adopted Jeanette P. Russell, then age 11, a girl from Hoosick Falls. Still next door was William Bliss, now listed as a gunpowder manufacturer, with another owner of the company, Paul Greeley, just a few doors away.

A newspaper article in the Burlington “Free Press” on August 19, 1859, speculated about the cause of a big explosion the day before as being a powder mill blowing up, before concluding it was a meteor strike. In the speculation it reported “fourteen wagons loaded with powder had started from Schaghticoke that morning.” This gives us a glimpse both of quantity and transportation, as the powder could have gone by train. Wagons were safer. It must have been quite a procession.

With the start of the Civil War, business was booming (no pun intended) at the powder mill. I have written before that it was the 4th largest supplier of powder for the Union, and about the terrible explosion at the mill in 1864 when four workers died. The plant produced 3600 pounds of powder per day. The company used about 600,000 pounds of saltpeter and brimstone to make $206,000 worth of powder in 1865.

President Wyatt R. Swift must have been busier than ever with the demands of war production. In addition to his church, political, and other business involvement- in banks and railroads- he was elected County Superintendent of the Poor in 1860.  He would have been familiar with the job as he had been a member of the County Board of Supervisors in his role as Schaghticoke Town Supervisor. Wyatt died March 12, 1863. This must have left a big void in the company. I have not found out why he died, but it must have been unexpected as he was so active.

In his will, Wyatt left $5000 in trust for his adopted daughter, to his wife the house, furniture, horses, carriages and sleighs, plus $10,000, which she could take in stock of the Schaghticoke Powder Company at $1000 per share. If his wife died before his mother-in-law, the latter would get the use of his house, best horse, carriage, and furniture plus $600 per year. He also left bequests to a few nieces and nephews, and money to care for his mentally ill and institutionalized sister Harriet.  His partners Paul Greeley and William P. Bliss were executors, along with his wife. Final disposition of the will did not occur until 1900.  The Troy “Times” reported that Wyatt’s funeral was April 3, 1863 at the Presbyterian Church, attended “by a large number of townspeople, though few were present from Troy.”  The Swift plot was one of the first in the new Elmwood Cemetery in Schaghticoke.

I’d like to return to 1844, and the renaming of the powder company from Masters and Swift to Loomis, Swift, and Masters. While Nicholas and John Masters had gotten into the mill by inheritance, and Wyatt Swift transitioned from textiles to powder, Riley Loomis was an experienced powder maker who apparently bought into the mill just before retiring.

Riley Loomis was born about 1790 in Southwick, Massachusetts, one of twelve children of Ham and Elizabeth Loomis. He married Roxana Atwater of West Springfield in 1815. The couple had a daughter, Roxana Marie, born in 1817, and a son, Riley Atwater, born in 1818. Though the son lived until 1854, I have not been able to find out anything more about him. Around 1820, Riley Sr. and the brothers Winthrop and Walter Laflin moved to Lee, Massachusetts and began manufacturing powder as Laflin, Loomis, and Co. The Centennial History of Lee states that they provided powder for the excavations on the Erie Canal, and soon had to begin a second mill in town, manufacturing 25 kegs (2500 pounds) per day. However, “explosions were frequent, causing fires and death…In September 1824, the mill at the north end of the village exploded. Five tons of powder burned, damaging many houses in the neighborhood and producing consternation throughout the town. Mr. Loomis was near the mill and came near losing his life from the falling timbers.” There was lots of local protest against rebuilding the mill, and it did not rebuild.  The History reports that the men converted to making paper bonnets and wire. As papermaking from wood pulp did not really begin until the 1870’s, this would have to be paper made from rags.  The 1820 “Berkshire Sun” reported that Laflin and Loomis had white flannel for sale, so perhaps the men also did textile manufacturing as well.

The Lee history does not mention that the Laflin family had been manufacturing gunpowder in the region since just after the Revolution. Matthew Laflin, whose wife was Lucy Loomis, began making gunpowder about 1790. His sons and grandsons continued after him. While the mills at Southwick closed, the Laflins moved their operation to Orange County, New York.  Laflin, then Laflin and Rand, became second only to DuPont as a maker of powder in the U.S. Laflin will come back into the story later. The famous Hazard Powder Company in Enfield, Connecticut grew from a company founded by Allen Loomis. I think he was Riley’s brother.  One of the early histories states that Laflin bought out a powder operation operated by the Loomis brothers. It seems clear that Riley came from a powder background, though at this point I haven’t been able to figure out all of the details.


Riley Loomis

Whichever the case, Riley moved to Schaghticoke after 1830. The first time I found him in the records was in the July 1, 1834 “Troy Budget,” when he attended a meeting of the Republican Young Men at the house of Colonel B.K. Bryan, along with Isaac T. Grant. Bryan lived on the Tomhannock near the powder mill. Riley was on a committee to draft resolutions. He had served as a representative in the Massachusetts legislature in 1831, so had political experience. Though Riley did not hold town or county office thereafter, he was very involved in politics through town and county committees. For example, the April 1840 “Troy Budget” reports on a meeting of the Democratic Republicans of Schaghticoke to nominate candidates. Riley Loomis was the chairman. The November 6, 1848 edition stated he was a Presidential elector for the Free Soil party, “known through the county as a uniform and consistent democrat and a generous true-hearted man.”  Riley’s obituary states that he “started as a Jeffersonian Republican,” staying true to the tenets of the party as its name changed over the years. “He contributed liberally for party purposes, but although often urged to do so, he could never be induced to accept a party nomination for office.” The Loomis’ also joined the Presbyterian Church. In 1836 he was elected a trustee of the church, along with fellow powder maker Nicholas M. Masters. Wyatt Swift served as a trustee about the same time.

Of course Riley had come to Schaghticoke for business. One wonders why he stayed with powder, a much more dangerous business than textiles. I found him in the 1840 census for town, with a family of one male and one female between 50-59- presumably he and his wife, though they were five years younger than that, one male from 20-29, presumably their son Riley, one female from 20-29, presumably their daughter Roxana Maria, one female from 10-14, and two free blacks from 10-23, one male and one female. Two of the household were in manufacturing, father and son. In 1839 Riley bought for $1500 property on the north side of the Tomhannock Creek from Herman Knickerbocker, along with 1/3 of the water from Knickerbocker’s dam. The property description records that the land abutted property Riley was already leasing from George Tibbits, and that this piece was on the highway. Riley was also constructing a dam, and had the privilege of “flowing” onto Knickerbacker’s land- creating a mill pond. Riley also had a right of way from the highway to the mill. The powder mill and its keg shop were just downstream from this, so it sounds like Riley was adding to the mill property. The name change of the powder mill didn’t occur until 1844, so perhaps at this point he was setting himself up as a competitor? His obituary states that he first was in business in his own name, then with Masters and Swift, so perhaps this is an indication of that.

Riley also built a home in Schaghticoke.  The January 3, 1851 “Troy Budget” describes a “valuable house and lot” for sale by Edwin Smith, on the south side of the Hoosic, next door to the residence of N.M. Masters, and “erected and formerly occupied by Riley Loomis.” “The location is elevated and healthy and the scenery unusually fine. The buildings…are large and commodious. On the premises are a good fruit and flower garden, extensive pleasure grounds, a well of pure water and two cisterns, in short everything necessary to render it a desirable country residence.” I think this is the former rectory of St. John’s Church, just south of the bridge on route 40.

Ironically, just as Riley became the first name in the Powder Mill partnership in 1844, he moved from Schaghticoke to Troy. His obituary states he moved in 1842, and indeed, the Troy “Budget” of October 5, 1842 lists him as the chair of a meeting of the Democrats of the First District over the Washington Market in Troy.  He apparently had moved seamlessly from Schaghticoke to Troy. Troy was a booming city, and perhaps he felt he needed to be part of it, and its society. He maintained his ties with the Schaghticoke Presbyterian Church, however, serving on a committee which studied building a new church in 1845-1846, and only being removed as a trustee in 1850. I think he also kept a home for some time locally.

riley loomis home

The Loomis “cottage” on Washington Park in Troy

At first Riley and his family lived at 30 3rd Street in Troy.   He joined the Presbyterian Church. In November 1844, daughter Roxana Marie married John Wentworth.  The 1850 census records Riley, at age 55, as a manufacturer. Roxana was also 55. Daughter Roxana Marie, here called Mary Wentworth, age 30, and her son John Wentworth, 8 months old, were living with her parents at this point. The household also included three young Irish serving girls and a young Irish laborer. The 1855 NYS census shows just Riley and Roxana in the house, described as brick and valued at $12,000, along with three different Irish girls and a different Irish man, the driver. I am not sure if this was the old house, or the new one described below.  The listing of Riley as a manufacturer indicates to me that he continued to run the powder mill.

As I said earlier, the next change in Powder Mill ownership was in 1856, when Loomis and Masters left the title, and the company became Swift, Bliss, Greeley & Co.  Certainly this is when Nicholas M. Masters retired. This may reflect Riley’s retirement as well. At that time he built a house on 3rd Street on Washington Park in Troy, described in his obituary as “the unique, spacious, semigothic homestead.” Washington Park, between 2nd and 3rd Streets, is accessible only to those residing on the park. This was one of the most fashionable places in Troy to live. The house was very different from the several- story brownstones being built on the park by the captains of Troy industry. It was a one- and- a- half story cottage with a large yard on either side. It had just four bedrooms, a parlor and dining room, bathroom and kitchen on the main floor. (illustrated)

The 1860 census records Riley Loomis and wife Roxana, both 69, living there, with just one Irish servant girl. His occupation was listed as “gentleman”, further confirmation of his retirement. Riley listed his real estate as worth $125,000 and his personal estate as $100,000. I find this incredible. This is far more in both categories than anyone I can find in Troy that year. The whole powder mill property was valued at $22,000 in 1855, and Riley’s house sold for $32,000 ten years later.  I can’t account for it. The 1865 NYS census lists the couple living alone, with Riley as retired. He died the following year.

john wentworth

Long John Wentworth, Mayor of Chicago, husband of R. Marie Loomis

Returning to the daughter, Roxana Marie, or R. Marie, as she was most often referred to, married a wealthy Chicagoan.  John Wentworth, known as “Long John,” was born in New Hampshire in 1815 and graduated from Dartmouth College in 1836. He was first a newspaperman in Chicago, but got into politics. At the time he married Marie, November 13, 1844, he was in his first term as a U.S. Congressman. I don’t know why John stopped in Troy or how he met Roxana Marie. If the Loomis’ had moved to Troy to get their daughter out into a wider society, they achieved their goal. The marriage was reported in both the local and New York City newspapers.   I assume that she was living with her parents at the time of the 1850 census as she did not want to live in Washington, D.C., was in the middle of having babies, and knew no one in Chicago. John served until 1855 in Congress, then again in 1865-1867. In between, from 1857-1858 and 1860-1861, he was Mayor of Chicago. Meanwhile he amassed a fortune. The 1860 census for Chicago listed his real estate as worth $300,000, and his personal estate as $30,000.  It lists his family as “Mrs. Wentworth, 21, and Rosinda, 5.” This must have been R. Marie, really 43, and daughter Roxana, who was 5 or 6.

In their personal lives, the Wentworths and Loomis’ suffered many tragedies.  On July 14, 1846, while on a visit to his paternal grandparents in New Hampshire with his mother, Riley Loomis Wentworth, their only child, died of croup at age 10 months. He had been born at his maternal grandparents’ home in Schaghticoke. Another child, Marie, was also born at her grandparents’ home in 1847, and died there of cholera on August 29, 1849. And a third child, John, born in Troy in November 1849, died there of lung fever on February 23, 1852, while his parents were in Chicago. And Riley Atwater, the only son of Riley and Roxana Loomis, died in Schaghticoke in September 1854 at the age of 35.  The fourth Wentworth child, Roxanna Atwater, was born in Troy on October 28, 1854. This was surely a happy note coming so soon after her uncle’s death.  But the fifth child, John Paul, born in Troy on October 18, 1857, died there on March 27, 1858 of congestion of the brain. A biography of John Wentworth, “Chicago Giant,” states that Marie “was always a shadowy figure in (Wentworth’s) life, and her demonstrable influence upon his career was so slight that one easily forgets he ever deserted bachelorhood.” I wonder if Marie was tied down through much of her marriage by her five pregnancies and ill children, and preferred to have the support of her mother and father in Troy.

When Riley died in 1866, his obituary in the Troy newspaper said “his health had been failing for years and his death was not unanticipated.” Unfortunately for us, it does not include many details of his connection with the Powder Mill. Of course, Mrs. Loomis inherited from her husband, but the city directory reveals that she moved to 102 3rd Street. Daughter Marie Wentworth died in February 1870 and Roxana Loomis the following month. Riley and Roxana Loomis, Roxana Marie Wentworth and her four children who died young are all buried in Oakwood Cemetery.

The elegant home on the park in Troy, which had already been passed to the Wentworths, was sold that same year at auction for $31,250 to Reverend A.T. Chapman. The inventory of Roxana’s estate is relatively modest, but does include a diamond jewelry worth about $1500, plus quite a lot of silver plated ware. Roxana had just seven dresses, but also a Russian sable coat and muff worth $1000. There was some pricey black walnut and mahogany furniture in parlor and bedrooms. At the auction of the property,   an elegant “Clarence”, a type of carriage, made new for $2500, sold for $725, and a barouche sleigh for $180. Granddaughter Roxana Wentworth and her father John Wentworth were the only remaining heirs. The Loomis home was torn down in 1916, and is now the site of apartments made from St. Mary’s School.

As I said above, with the retirement of Riley Loomis in 1856, the Powder Company’s formal name became Swift, Bliss, and Greeley. I have talked of Wyatt Swift, who died in 1863, now on to Greeley. Paul Greeley was born in 1814 in Salisbury, New Hampshire, the son of farmer/tanner Moses Greeley and his wife Hannah Eaton.  He was about five years younger than Wyatt Swift, seven than Bliss.

According to the Greeley genealogy, Paul went to Savannah, Georgia in 1836 and worked as a bookkeeper there until 1843, when he went to Hazard Powder Company in Connecticut as a bookkeeper and “general assistant.”  Hazard had been founded in Enfield, Connecticut by Colonel Augustus Hazard in 1835. Paul married Caroline Woodworth of New York City in Albany the next year. She, the daughter of Martin and Abigail Woodworth, was just 19.  One wonders how they met and why they married in Albany.  They had a son who died at birth in 1846. A daughter Emily died at age seven months in 1848, but a second Emily was born in 1854. The 1850 US census found them in Enfield, Connecticut. Paul was listed as a 35-year-old manufacturer of powder.  Wife Caroline was 23.  According to “Peril in the Powder Mills,” Paul started another company, Enfield Powder, in 1849, with several other investors. This company was taken over by Hazard in 1854, perhaps leading to the Greeley’s move to Schaghticoke. The Greeley genealogy states that he was the Superintendent of the American Powder Company in South Acton, Massachusetts at that time. Whichever it was, Paul was able to amass some capital.

Paul became one of the owners of the Powder Mill when the Greeleys moved here in 1856.  He would have been a mature man of 42. That year Caroline joined the Presbyterian Church. The following year son Edward Allen died at age six and a half.  Paul joined the church in August 1858, when he was immediately elected a trustee of the church, joining his fellow powder makers. Their final child, Emma, was born that year.

Paul and Caroline lived near partners Wyatt Smith and William Bliss in his new town, on the current route 40 just south of where the bridge crosses the Hoosic River.  The 1860 US census captured the family at its largest: Paul, 46, a gunpowder manufacturer with a personal estate of $15,300; Caroline, 35; Ellen, 6; and Emma, 2; plus mother-in-law Abigail Woodworth, age 70; and a 25- year-old Irish domestic servant, Bridget. Paul must have been instrumental to the operations of the mill during the great demand of the Civil War years, especially with the death of Wyatt Swift mid-war. The family seemed to have been warmly welcomed into the community.

Unfortunately Paul’s tenure at the powder mill had a very tragic end. The Troy “Times” reported his death on May 22, 1866. Paul, John T. Masters, the last of that name associated with the company, and several others had gone to Pennsylvania on business. They arrived at a station near Hazelton, Pa., where they had to change trains. For reasons unknown, Paul “stepped from the platform (onto) the track,” into the path of an oncoming train. “He hesitated for an instant, considering on which side of the track he should jump in order to escape,” but was hit by the tender, “which was in advance of the locomotive.” It knocked him down, leaving his legs on the track to be run over by the train.  “He was immediately picked up, still conscious as ever and not even fainting.” His companions put him in a train car and took him back to Hazelton. Looking at his mangled feet, he said, “I am ruined. But is it possible this is death? It may be. If so, am I prepared? I think I am.” The next day both legs were amputated below the knee. He died several days later, before his family was able to reach him.

According to the paper, the village of Schaghticoke was in shock.  “Mr. Greeley was no ordinary man. He possessed a benevolent heart; he delighted in doing good. He had the means, the will, and the executive talent to accomplish his purposed and those purposes were always beneficent.” Paul was doing a great job as a principal owner of the mill and had just been ordained a deacon of the Presbyterian Church, where he was also chairman of the board of trustees. Would the Schaghticoke Powder Company have been taken over by Laflin in 1871 if Greeley had survived? Impossible to know.

greeley grave 4                            Greeley Plot in Elmwood Cemetery, Schaghticoke

Paul was buried in the Greeley plot at the brand new Elmwood Cemetery, where there are also tombstones for his children who had died young. He was the neighbor of co-owner Wyatt Swift even in death. Widow Caroline Greeley was still in Schaghticoke in 1870. She had an estate of $8000. The family included daughters Ellen and Emily plus one domestic servant. Ellen married a man named Charles Durfee a couple of years later and by 1880 had moved to Geneseo. They already had three sons. Mother Caroline and sister Emma lived with them.  By the 1900 census, they had all moved to Oberlin, Ohio.  Ellen was a widow, who had had five children, four living. Emma had been married for fifteen years and had two sons, though the census does not list her husband in the family. Caroline lived with her daughters and grandsons until she died in 1902. She is buried beside Paul in Elmwood Cemetery.

Just after Nicholas Masters and Riley Loomis got out of the Powder Mill, in 1858, William P. Bliss became Secretary, and was listed in the company name.  It’s time to look closer at this man. William Porter Bliss was born in 1807 in Stockbridge or Lee, Massachusetts, son of Joshua and Grace Porter Bliss. Joshua was a carpenter.  William married Ann Jane Goodrich in 1833 in Sheffield, Massachusetts. I have not been able to learn anything about the early training of William. He lived in the same area of Massachusetts as Riley Loomis, and it is tempting to think he worked for him and followed him to town, but I just don’t know.

The Bliss’ moved to Schaghticoke in 1837. In August of that year, Ann joined the Presbyterian Church, followed by William in May 1838.  In July 1839 William was elected a trustee of the church for the first time.  He was involved in the church for the rest of his life. In 1854 he was a member of the United Church Board for World Ministries, and in 1858 a member of the Board of American Commissioner for Foreign Missions, carrying his religious commitment to a national level. He was chorister at Schaghticoke Presybterian from 1837-1874, leading the choir for an amazing 37 years.

The 1840 census for Schaghticoke listed William and Ann, plus one male and one female aged 15-19. William was reported as working in manufacturing. A Bliss genealogy states that William and Ann had no children, so I’m not sure who the teenagers were. I also can not be sure that he worked at the Powder Mill.  The 1865 census reports that at some point Ann had had one child, which evidently did not survive. By the 1850 census, the first to list names, William, 42, was listed as a bookkeeper, with a personal worth of $3000. Wife Ann was 35, and an 18-year-old name Allace L. Bacon, lived with the couple. She was also born in Massachusetts. The Bliss’ are listed next door to fellow-powder maker W.R. Swift, living just south of the Catholic Church on the same side of the street. Riley Loomis and N.M. Masters lived almost across the street. Again, I’m not sure that William worked at the Powder Mill, but I’m betting he did.  The powder makers stuck together in residence and worship, as well as business.

Unlike the other powder makers, William was not involved in county and national politics and county committees. He did serve as a trustee of the village of Schaghticoke in the first years after its incorporation in 1867, but not beyond that. He also dabbled in real estate. He and the other powder men had bought a parcel in Brooklyn which was foreclosed upon in 1853. He also bought lot 9 in the village, on the west side of Main Street, near the current VFW. But this was foreclosed upon and sold at auction in 1854.  At the time of his death, he also had a perpetual lease on lot 3 in the village.

It seems that William focused on the Powder Mill more than Masters, Swift, or Loomis.  His promotion within the powder company is revealed in the 1855 census, when he is listed as a powder manufacturer, now worth $4000.  He and Ann lived alone. By the 1860 census, William, now 52, had real estate worth $12,300 and a personal estate worth $3000. He and Ann, now 49, had a domestic servant, Eliza Dobson, a 20-year old Irish girl. Anderson’s History of Rensselaer County states that William was elected President of the powder company in 1868. As former President Wyatt Swift died in 1863, I don’t know who served in the interim. Perhaps the election was a mere formality.  I will return to William later.

There is much more to say about the Powder Mill, but I will return to its history later. The following bibliography is for the whole series- already written.

Albany”Argus”, March 1819, 1863

Report of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, 1858

Anderson, George, “Landmarks of Rensselaer County.”

Berkshire “Journal”, 1831

Berkshire “Sun”, 1820

Burlington “Free Press”, Aug 19, 1859

Fehrenbacher, Don E., “Chicago Giant”, 1957

Find-a-Grave.com, Chauncey Olds

Greeley, George Hiram; “Genealogy of the Greely-Greeley Family”, 1903, Boston, Ma.

Klopott, Beth, “History of Schaghticoke.”

McMahon, David, and Ann Kelly Lane, “Peril in the Powder Mills.”Infinity, 2004.

“Minutes of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church,” 1852

Munsell, Joel, “Catalog of Graduates of Union College”, 1868

NYS Assembly, “Report of Stockholders in NYS Banks” 1831, 1832

NYS Society for the Promotion of Temperance, 3rd and 4th annual reports, 1832 and 1833

Ogdensburg “Journal,” Jan. 17, 1877.

Olds, Edson, “Olds Family in England and America”, 1915.

Oneida “Morning Herald” Nov 28, 1848

Pittsfield “Sun”, 1854, 1870

“Proceedings of the Grand Chapter of Freemasons in NYS” 1829

Rensselaer County deeds, book 48 p 327

Rochester “Republican” Nov 23, 1844

Schaghticoke Presybterian Church records, in historian’s office

St Lawrence County “Republican”, March 1840.

Syracuse “Evening Chronicle” Oct 18, 1855, Nov 20, 1854

Sylvester, Nathan, “History of Rensselaer County”, 1880

Troy “Budget”: Sept 1840, Oct 7, 1843, Oct 27, 1846, Nov 4, 1844, Sept 27, 1847, Sept 24, 1858, June 1847, July 17, 1853

Troy “Daily Times” Sept 27, 1845, Mar 28, 1872, Oct 1855, Nov 15, 1859, Mar 9, 1860, Oct 11, 1854, Apr 4, 1863, July 27, 1861, Oct 17, 1888, May 23, 1866, May 1893, Sept 29, 1892, Feb 3, 1896, Jan 20, 1877, Oct 16, 1889

Troy “Daily Whig” March 11, 1861, Mar 12, 1844, Feb 1837, Apr 12, 1849, Mar 6, 1860, Nov 12, 1860, Jan 24, 1856, Nov 17, 1855, Sept 1, 1874

Utica “Gazette” Nov 12, 1854

Utica “Morning Herald” Oct 24, 1879

Valente, AJ, “Rag Paper Manufacture in the US, 1891-1900”, 2010

Washington County “Post”, Jan 19, 1894, Oct 4, 1892

Wentworth, John, “Wentworth Genealogy”, A. Mudge, 1870.

Will of Wyatt Swift, Rensselaer county book 64, p 36



St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church

I wrote the following about three years ago, but somehow failed to post it on this blog. A  recent query about the church made me go back and review…and make the discovery.

Several years ago, I wrote about the Schaghticoke Dutch Reformed Church, not only the first church in the town of Schaghticoke, but also the first church north of Albany in the colony of New York.  Most of the early residents of town were of Dutch descent.  By the time of the Revolution, many people from the Palatine section of Germany had moved to the area.  They formed their own church, the Gilead Lutheran church in Brunswick, perhaps as early as 1745. The St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church followed in the town of Schaghticoke, originally located at the junction of North Line Drive and Valley Falls Road.  Just when this church began is something of a puzzle- and has been misreported often over the years.

I have a transcription of a record book of the church beginning in 1829, which states that the church was founded in 1776, and that Reverend. Joseph Wichterman was the first pastor, from then until 1793. Some years ago, a Lutheran church historian wrote to tell me that was impossible, as Rev. Wichterman didn’t arrive in this country until 1790. He included the passenger list of the Brig Mary, from Amsterdam, Holland, arriving in Philadelphia on Oct 4, 1790. The first on the list was George J. Wighterman, a Lutheran minister.  The History of the Gilead Evangelical Lutheran Church, written in 1881 by its then pastor JN Barnett, confirms this, recording that Rev. Georg Joseph Wichterman began as preacher there on August 31, 1795, and served until 1801. The book includes the contract of the church with the pastor, which does not mention any other church besides Gilead, but the author records that he preached at West Sand Lake in 1800, and perhaps at Schaghticoke at the same time, as the three churches were afterwards linked.

Gilead Lutheran Church

Gilead Lutheran Church

Gilead Lutheran church

Gilead Lutheran church

I hope that Rev. Wichterman did preach at Schaghticoke, as he sounds like a colorful person. The Gilead history gives this description: “In stature he was short and correspondingly slender.” He was so short that a special box was built for him to stand on while he preached, “because those in the front seats could barely see his face over the top of the pulpit. ..he occasionally disappeared from view of his audience.”  He had to yell at the young men of the congregation for their levity for “they would laugh when the dominie fell off the box.” He is further described as “impassioned, pompous, opinionated, and magisterial.” He persisted in wearing a three-cornered hat while he preached, long after it had gone out of style. He both preached and wrote in German, which tells us that his congregation was bilingual as late as 1800.

After a short gap, the next minister at Gilead Lutheran was Rev. Anton Theodor Braun, who began preaching about 1802. Unlike Rev. Wichterman, he had lived in the area: Schoharie, West Sand Lake, and East Greenbush, before coming to Gilead. According to the Gilead History, Rev. Braun preached at West Sand Lake or Greenbush, Gilead, and Schaghticoke, “which it is to be supposed that he organized.” The first surviving tombstones in the St. John’s Lutheran Cemetery are from 1800, 1803, and 1805, which confirms that Rev. Braun was probably the first to preach in Schaghticoke- in what sort of building is not known.  The congregation at Gilead became smaller, as the 2/3 of it which came from outer areas began to attend their own churches.  Rev. Braun is described as “indefatigable, mild, and forgiving.” He died in 1813, his otherwise solemn funeral ending with lots of drinking of rum!

In 1813 the new minister appointed for the three churches was Reverend John Bachman. According to the history of Gilead Lutheran church, he was born in Schaghticoke in 1790. I’m not sure of that, but his family, headed by father Jacob, was here by  the 1800 census, with one male under 10, two from 10-16, one from 17-26, one from 27-44, one over 44, plus one female under 10, one from 17-26, one from 26-44 and one slave. The history states that Bachman’s family attended church in Schaghticoke, and that young John prepared for the ministry by living and studying with his predecessor, Rev. Braun.  Unlike Braun and the previous ministers, Rev. Bachman preached in English, though some of his congregation may have preferred German. I find that so interesting, as the Dutch Reformed Church had switched to English about twenty years earlier. Many of the German-speaking families had arrived in Schaghticoke by 1780, and had emigrated from Germany by 1720, so the language proved very persistent.

an illustration from Viviparous Quadrupeds, written by Bachman, illustrated by Audubon

Unfortunately, Rev. Bachman only stayed one and a half years (1813-1815) as pastor of the church.  He felt he was called to go elsewhere, and perhaps moved for his health as well. He went on to greatness. Rev. Bachman went to Charleston, South Carolina, where he was pastor of its St. John’s Church for 56 years. He was an ardent naturalist, who co-authored the book Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America with world-famous naturalist John Audubon. Bachman did the writing, Audubon the illustrations.  Audubon and Bachman were so close that two of the former’s sons married two of the latter’s daughters. Bachman wrote many other books, including one which declared that blacks and whites were the same species, a controversial stand for a Southern resident. Bachman also founded Newberry College in 1856 near Charleston. It is a fine small liberal arts college.  He died in 1874, and is buried in St. John’s Church in Charleston.

Reverend John Molther followed Bachman in 1815. . The three churches cooperated to rent him a parsonage in Troy, which he felt was equidistant from his churches in Brunswick, Greenbush, and Schaghticoke. He only stayed until 1818, having gotten into a dispute with the Gilead congregation over the siting of a new church building.  The author of the History of Gilead continues to describe the ministers in colorful terms. Rev. Molther was known for beautiful sermons, but too long pastoral visits: he, his wife and four children staying with various parishioners for days at a time. The next minister, Rev. William McCarty, the first non-German pastor, just showed up in 1819, claimed to be a Lutheran minister, and was hired. He was known for sobbing wildly during sermons, and racing horses wildly after services.  Fortunately, he left after just a couple of years, and was succeeded by Reverend John Goodman, a very responsible pastor, who stayed until 1828. Reverend Jacob Senderling followed. After a few years, the Greenbush church hired its own pastor.

In my office I have a transcription of the records of St. John’s Lutheran Church beginning in 1829. The records from the 1830’s are particularly interesting. The death records give some commentary on each person. For example, Francessta Sipperly died at age 12 in 1836 of inflammation of the bowels. She was “an interesting girl, religiously inclined.” Mrs. Sebastian Snyder, who died in 1841, was a “good though afflicted woman.” David Doty, who died in December 1847, was “a young man who broke a leg in the flax machine of Colonel Hearman, which resulted in his death,” and John Wolf, who died in May 1849, “in a state of inebriation fell from his wagon and broke his neck.” He had been a member of the church, but was not at the time of his death.  The marriage records are a boon to genealogists, giving not only the names of the couple, but often the names of their parents and of witnesses to the weddings. In general, the weddings took place at someone’s house- either that of the parent of the bride or the groom, or at the parsonage.

1877 Beers atlas: look for Melrose, then up Valley Falls Road to the parsonage, then the church at the junction of that road and the current NorthLine Drive

1877 Beers atlas: look for Melrose, then up Valley Falls Road to the parsonage, then the church at the junction of that road and the current NorthLine Drive

The records of the Schaghticoke church name Reverend Sylvester Curtis as the first pastor for the church on its own, beginning in 1850, though he was pastor for only a year or two. I found his name in the record book for the store in Grant’s Hollow as a customer in early 1853.  As I said earlier, the original church was located near the junction of North Line Drive and Valley Falls Road in what is now Melrose. The large Lutheran Church cemetery is still there.  According to the transcription of the church records, an early building was replaced during the pastorate of Rev. John. Selmser, 1852-1857, and the parsonage was just down Valley Falls Road, on the west side.

Ironically, while ministers can be very important in the lives of people, presiding over the ceremonies for the major life stages, they often served congregations for just a few years, and are hard to document in the public records. The minister following Reverend Selmser is an exception. Valentine F. Bolton arrived in 1858 and stayed until 1872. In the 1865 census, I find him and his family. He was born in Virginia, and only 27 years old- meaning he began as pastor at age 20! His wife, Catherine, was born in Fulton County, and was 29 years old. They had three children: Charles, age 4, Virginia, age 2 ½, and Grace, age 3/12. By the 1870 census, they had added another son, James, age 1.  The next minister was Rev. J. R. Sikes, followed by Rev. George W. Anderson in 1883.

the final location of St. John's Lutheran church

the final location of St. John’s Lutheran church

Reverend C. Diefendorf arrived in 1893 to a church that had dwindled to 48 members. He and his congregation took what I think was a bold step. They dismantled the church from the 1850’s and used some of its wood and stone in re-erecting the new building, at the corner of Church Street and Valley Falls Road. I would imagine that the change of location was because Melrose had become a center of population, but the area around the old church was still very rural. According to the record book, the whole building process, including a barn and sheds, cost $6000. Most churches had sheds where parishioners could park their horses and buggies during services.  A new parsonage was built for $2000 next door to the church on the north side.  The new church and its pastor must have been inspirational, as the membership doubled over the next five or six years, and the debt was paid off.  A former member of the church, Marjorie Poulsen, told me that rehabilitating failing churches was Rev. Diefendorf’s specialty.

In 1905 under the next pastor, Rev. Emmanuel L. Dreibelbis, the entire church building was raised three feet, for $125. The auditorium got a new metal roof and walls, and all new windows.  The men of the church excavated a basement during the winter, and finished and furnished it.  All of the landscaping was redone. The church was rededicated in the spring of 1906, after about $2000 worth of work. The records are unclear as to how long Rev. Dreibelbis stayed at the church. On one hand, the records list T. W. Keller as receiving new members from 1910-1917, Rev. J.C. Trauger in 1919 and 1920, and Rev. C. L. Quinn the following two years. But then Rev. Dreibelbis seems to have returned from 1923-1926.  I did find him in the 1905 census, at age 45, living just with his wife Josephine, age 39, but not in another local census.

During the pastorate of Dorr Edward Fritts, 1926-1929, the church underwent another round of renovations. This included everything from a new electric signboard to hardwood floors in the Sunday School room, an oak lectern and altar secured as gifts from West Virginia, and many memorial gifts of candle sticks, altar vases, new lighting fixtures, a new Bible, and more.

As with other churches, the Lutheran congregation sponsored a number of organizations which worked together for the church and community. The Luther League, the Willing Workers, and the Women’s Missionary Society were all active at least from 1900 on. They were all affiliated with the corresponding state and national organizations of the Lutheran Church, so contributed at home and nationally. They also paid for many of the improvements to the church.  A 1910 pamphlet for the Luther League, which included men and women, lists a year of Prayer Meeting Topics, week by week, with a different member as the leader for each week. The topics were all based on Bible verses, and included “The chances we miss, Secrets of happiness, and How must a Christian be different from others?” The list of committees of the organization included Social, Sunday School, Temperance, Missionary, Flower, Lookout, and Good Citizenship.

In 1969, the church closed, its members joining with Our Savior’s Lutheran Church of Troy. In 1971, Carol and Patrick McCormack bought the church and renovated it to be a home. Some of the interior furnishings were sold at auction. The chandelier and altar table are in a home on Washington Park in Troy. The Goyette family lived in the building for a while, and then Lyn and Scott Whitcomb bought the property and made it into their home and her hair salon, Lyn’s Hairafter.

Groundbreaking for a new church took place in June 1970. The new building, at the corner of Route 40 and Plank Road, was dedicated on April 4, 1971. In 1992 Our Savior’s merged with St. John’s Lutheran of Troy, and was renamed Faith Lutheran.

Of course, the cemetery remains. It has had periodic “clean-ups” by various students and groups, most recently by Justin Frisino as a Boy Scout project. There are about 300 stones in the cemetery, including those of about a dozen veterans of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. The names of those buried are in the index to Rensselaer County burials in the USGenWeb site, and in my office. The Revolutionary War veterans mostly served in the 14th Albany County Militia, Schaghticoke’s unit in the war: Jacob and Michael Overocker, Christian Piser, Jacob Sipperly, John Snyder, and George Wetsel. There are also Daniel and Hendrick Grawbarger of the Van Rensselaer Regiment, Phillip Coons of the 10th Regiment Albany County Militia, Richard Green and William Myer of the 4th Regiment, Orange County Militia, and George Miller of the 2nd Regiment Westchester Militia. He lived until 1855!

Lutheran Cemetery at the  junction of Valley Falls Road and North Line Drive

Lutheran Cemetery at the
junction of Valley Falls Road and North Line Drive

St. John’s was not the only Lutheran church in the town of Schaghticoke. In 1852 a Lutheran Church was organized at “Bryan’s Corners”, which was located on River Road at the junction with Allen Road. The district was named for the Bryan family, of course. WW Bryan had a grain cradle factory just north of Allen Road, and there was also a school house. Hiram Bryan was one of about forty original members of the church, which was part of the Frankean Evangelical Lutheran Church Synod. The Frankean Synod was socially progressive, with strong emphasis on pacifism, temperance, and abolitionism. In other locations, the Frankean Lutherans were participants in the Underground Railroad, the movement of escaping black slaves to Canada, but the participation of this congregation is unknown. The 1877 map of the area shows a church building just south of the junction of Allen Road, on the river side of River Road. Unfortunately, I know nothing more about the building or the congregation.

look for the Lutheran Church labeled in this section of Beers Atlas of 1877

look for the Lutheran Church labeled in this section of Beers Atlas of 1877


Records of the St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church

“History of the Gilead Evangelical Lutheran Church”, by JN Barnett, 1881

Records of the town historian

US and state census

Rudy Helmo, Expressionist artist of Rensselaer County

Rice Mountain by Rudy Helmo. On exhibit in the office of Hoosic Valley Elementary School.

Rice Mountain by Rudy Helmo. On exhibit in the office of Hoosic Valley Elementary School.

This past summer, the Rensselaer County Historical Society in Troy had a retrospective exhibit of the work of Rensselaer County artist Rudy Helmo. The star of the exhibit was his large oil painting of Rice Mountain in Melrose in winter.  It is usually very visible but little commented upon in the office of the Hoosic Valley Elementary School. You could see it when you go to vote, or actually any weekday at all.  Warren Broderick of Lansingburgh assisted with the research and compilation of the exhibit. The biographical information which follows is from Rudy’s daughter Joan Helmo Bondy.

Rudy Helmo was born in Germany in 1908. He began painting as a young man, immigrating to New York City in 1929. He worked as a waiter in restaurants in New York and studied in the Art Students League of New York. In 1944 he and his wife moved to Troy. He continued to work in restaurants, but had some exhibits of his work and began to teach. In 1950 the Helmos moved to Pittstown, near Melrose. Rudy was finally able to paint and teach in earnest. He offered classes at schools, clubs, museums, and the Albany Institute of History and Art, plus SUNY at Albany.

Helmo painted in a number of styles, from impressionism to expressionism, and painted portraits, still lifes, and landscapes. He was a very outgoing man, famous for holding demonstrations where he would speak to an audience while painting, explaining his process, finish the work, and auction it off while still wet. He exhibited locally and nationally.

In 1970 he and his wife moved back to Bavaria in Germany. They found they missed the U.S. and returned to Albany in 1975. Rudy’s health began to fail, and while he continued to paint, his teaching activity was reduced. He passed away in 1986.

Cathy Crowley McNulty helped me discover how Hoosic Valley Elementary got its wonderful Helmo painting. Rudy taught art classes at the high school from about 1958-1968. In 1964, Ellen Wiley, art teacher, and her colleagues at the elementary school purchased the oil from Helmo, seeking to increase their students’ appreciation of fine art.

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.


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. Father Anthony Tomasullo was the last Augustinian pastor.

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