History of the Town of Schaghticoke

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

Battlefields of World War I : On to Paris

 

 

 

 

For the past few blog posts,  I have been chronicling a bit of the tour my husband and I made of World War I battlefields in Belgium and France. It was a sobering experience. Though most historians believe the US entrance into the war in 1917 really made the difference for the Allies- and I would concur- all the fighting happened “over there.” The US lost about 110,000 men dead- half to disease, half to wounds- certainly significant, but paltry compared to the about 4 MILLION deaths suffered by the Allies and over 3 MILLION by Germany and the other Central Powers. And of course our country was not the one devastated physically by the war. Therefore the war is not much remembered here.

Finally, Germany had to face the failure of a number of offensives in spring and summer 1918, the aggressive Allied offensive of the Meuse-Argonne in September and October 1918, and the seemingly endless ability of the U.S. to bring in new troops against them, and an armistice was agreed to, to begin at the 11th hour of November 11, 1918. After four bloody years, the “Great War” ended.

Our tour, sadly, did not include a trip to the battlefields of the Meuse-Argonne, where the greatest number of American casualties occurred, but we did go to the scene where the peace treaty was signed  on June 28, 1919, the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles in Paris. Versailles was begun as a hunting lodge in 1624 by the French king Louis XIII, but vastly expanded and used as his main palace by Louis XIV, then by his successors Louis XV and XVI  through the 18th century. Of course the French Revolution of 1789 brought the reign of French kings to an end for a while, but the palace was reoccupied, renovated and further expanded by King Louis Philippe, who was King of France from 1830-1848.

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Versailles

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Hall of Mirrors, site of the signing of the treaty of Versailles ending World War I

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Painting of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in the room above

Versailles is one of the must-see places on a tour of Paris- it is just outside the city- and has to be one of the most crowded museums I have ever been in. It’s pretty hard to imagine life there, or the atmosphere of the signing of the Treaty ending World War I while surrounded by so many tourists! The opulence is overwhelming. But in the end it is worth the trip.

The Treaty ending “The War to End all Wars” dictated harsh terms to the defeated Germans- in terms of reparations to be paid, land to be ceded, and limitations on its military. It also established the League of Nations. Many historians say that the harsh treaty made World War II all but inevitable.

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Battlefields of World War I: Cemeteries

American Cemeteries in Belgium and France

 

During our World War I tour of Belgium and France, my husband and I visited two American cemeteries: that near the Somme and the Aisne-Marne, both in France.  All American soldiers who died during the war were initially buried near where they died. After the war, families were given the option to leave them in cemeteries which would be maintained by the U.S. government or have the bodies repatriated to the U.S. According to the superintendent of the U.S. cemetery at Aisne-Marne, about 60% of the bodies were repatriated, most in 1921. The others remain. Having seen the condition of many of our local cemeteries and the graves of World War I veterans in them and these two cemeteries in Europe, I can say that the graves in Europe are far-better tended and honored than those here. It’s a shame, really.

The American cemeteries and other memorials are maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission. The commission is an independent entity of the U.S. government, established in 1923. The first chairman of the commission was General John “Black Jack” Pershing, who had been the commander of the American Expeditionary Force. He served until his death in 1948. There are eight World War I cemeteries in Europe, with about 31,000 interments and 4,500 men memorialized, as their bodies are missing.  Each grave is marked with either a white cross or Star of David, if the soldier was Jewish.  If the name of the soldier is unknown, the marker states “Here Rests in Honored Glory an American Soldier Known but to God.” If the man won the Medal of Honor, the lettering is all in gold, otherwise they are the same for all, officer or Private.  If a marker gets worn, it is replaced immediately. The grounds are impeccably maintained. There is a US government employee on duty every day to guide visitors.

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the Chapel at the American Somme Cemetery

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Taps and daily flag lowering at the Somme American Cemetery. My husband waits to lay a memorial wreath, a tour member waits to help fold the flag

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The 105th NY was made up of men from New York State, formerly in the National Guard

There is a chapel at each cemetery, with the names of the missing engraved on its walls. There is also a flag pole, with the U.S. flag raised and lowered each day, the latter accompanied by the playing of Taps. We were at the two cemeteries at the end of the day, and got to participate in the flag lowering and folding. We also placed a memorial wreath at the Somme and held a ceremony in the chapel at the Aisne-Marne.  The Somme cemetery was particularly significant to us as there are a number of soldiers buried there from the 105th Infantry Regiment, which included many Rensselaer County men. They perished in the battle which broke the famous Hindenburg Line- the German defenses- in September 1918.

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Chapel at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery

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View of the cemetery from the chapel. Men are buried without regard to rank.

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Inside the chapel at the Aisne-Marne Cemetery, where we conducted a ceremony to honor the men buried there

We got to speak at length with the young man who is the Superintendent at Aisne-Marne. He is extremely knowledgeable about his cemetery and eager to know more and honor each soldier. He has a collection of letters and memorabilia brought by relatives of men buried there, and shared a couple of the stories with us.  He was a wonderful representative of our government abroad.

 

Battlefields of World War I : Arras

 

 

My husband and I learned a lot on our recent tour of World War I battlefields on the Western Front. This week I turn to the city of Arras, France. Arras was located right on the entrenched front separating the Allies from the Axis. It was also built right on top of limestone quarries, which supplied the stone used to build it from the Middle Ages through the late 19th century.  In late 1916, the British forces which were defending Arras decided to use the underground quarries in a surprise offensive against the Germans, whose trenches were very close by. Through the winter, soldiers from New Zealand and Britain who had been miners in their civilian jobs worked together to drill tunnels to connect the existing quarries. They dug 12 miles of tunnels, installing electricity and running water, building bunk rooms and lavatories, offices, kitchens, and a hospital, plus a light railway, all underground.

Finally in April 1917, 20,000 British troops arrived and lived in the tunnels for about a week before the surprise start to the offensive. On April 9, exits were dynamited open and the Germans were taken by surprise. Sadly, as often happened in World War I, the follow-up to the great gains made- 7 miles into German territory- was not well-planned and the successes were not built upon. Casualties were heavy- up to 4000 per day in the end, before the offensive was stopped.

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Entry to the Wellington Quarry Museum

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We had to be outfitted for our exploration- hard hats shaped like WWI tin hats

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On our tour- a connecting tunnel and a bit of the small railway

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One of the exits, blown open on the day the surprise attack began.

Since 2008, there has been a museum in part of the tunnel system- the Carriere Wellington- Wellington Quarry- We got to go down in elevators and walk through the tunnels, see inscriptions made by the soldiers on the stone walls, the different types of rooms, and one of the exits.

 

 

More Battlefields of World War I

 

 

Near Ypres is the Essex Farm Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.  Naturally, British and French cemeteries in Belgium and France were located next to hospitals and first aid stations. This site was at the aid station where Dr. John McCrae worked during the second battle of Ypres in 1915. Dr or Lt. Col.  McCrae was a Canadian who served in the war as a doctor until he died of pneumonia in January 1918. He was buried in a different British cemetery in France. He is far more well-known as the author of the poem “In Flanders Fields”, written after the death of a close friend near this aid station in 1915. This is probably the most famous poem of the war. Some of the devastated fields of Flanders sprouted with wild poppies in the springs of 1915, inspiring McCrae.

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Col. John McCrae

                  ‘In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead, short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

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Aid station where Dr. McCrae worked

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Essex Farm Cemetery- typical of the hundreds of British cemeteries in France and Belgium- beautifully tended and planted with perennials.

The Essex Farm cemetery is a small one, but visited by many tourists due to also being the site honoring Dr. McCrae. As it was so close to the front lines, it was much bombed after its creation, so that once-interred remains were disturbed, and known graves became unknown. Probably the most decorated grave here is that of a soldier who lied about his age when he was enlisted and was killed before he turned sixteen.

Battlefields of World War I

 

 

In September 2017, my husband and I spent two weeks touring World War I battlefields in Belgium and France, a tour run by Road Scholar.  Of course, we are in the midst of the Centennial of the Great War, an opportune time to visit. We were fortunate to have as our tour guide in Europe a retired British Army Major, who has been a battlefield guide for twenty years.

I’ve had a hard time processing everything we learned and saw during our trip. We had done a lot of preparatory reading, but the reality of the death and devastation caused by the war was stunning. Thankfully we stayed in lovely places and ate fabulous French food, which mitigated the somber places we visited. Rather than give you a travelogue, I thought I would highlight a few of the places.

I would just like to remind you that after some initial advances by the Allies- Britain and France- and the Axis- Germany and Austria-Hungary- the war settled to a stalemate reaching from Belgium at the north through France, ending in the mountains at the border of France and Switzerland at the south. Opposing lines of trenches faced each other and the same ground was fought over for four years.

We visited the city of Ypres (Ieper) in Belgium, a medieval city which was almost totally destroyed by the Germans during the war. The medieval cloth hall, constructed about 1300, was one of the largest commercial buildings anywhere when built and a rare survival- until the Germans bombed it. After the war, it was totally rebuilt as it had been, and is now a huge museum about the war. The day we were there, an international fife and drum corps convention was going on in the large open square in front of it, and we met the corps from Macedon, NY, near Rochester!

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Ypres was a walled city and after the war the Menin Gate- the gate for the road leading to the city of Menin- was rebuilt as a war memorial. It is inscribed with the names of 55,000 British soldiers who died in the area during the war and whose whereabouts are unknown. Every once in a while, another soldier’s body is discovered. 100 years later, and buried locally. If he can be identified, the name is removed from the wall.

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The Cloth Hall in 1917

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The Cloth Hall rebuilt. It houses the In Flanders Fields Museum

Every night at 8 since its completion in 1928 there has been a Last Post ceremony conducted to honor the sacrifice of British soldiers, organized by the local fire brigade, except for a period during World War II. The night we were there, buglers from a British Army unit participated. During the ceremony, anyone who wishes may lay a wreath to honor the soldiers. My husband and I asked to participate and laid a traditional poppy wreath. Behind us in the line of those laying wreaths were members of a teenaged rugby team from Australia. A large crowd of people watched.

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The Menin Gate..looking into the city of Ypres. After the Last Post Ceremony in which we participated

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We went back to take a picture the next day- this rack houses the wreaths placed the night before. You can see a few of the names of missing soldiers engraved on the walls of the gate.

 

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Pioneers of the Valley Falls Political Equality Club

In September, I posted a history of the Political Equality Vote in Valley Falls. This post expands on that.

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The front covers of three of the earliest program booklets of the Political Equality Club- in the Valley Falls Library

 

 

The following are biographies of the original members of the Political Equality Club and of those women listed in the oldest surviving program booklet, that of 1905-1906. Sources of information are mostly census and newspaper articles, found thanks to www.fultonhistory.com, plus a few details from ancestry.com family trees. Please note that the Political Equality Club changed its name to the Woman’s Club of Valley Falls and Vicinity in 1917, after woman’s suffrage was enacted in New York State.

Note: PEC= Political Equality Club  DAR= Daughters of the American Revolution

 

Miss Mabel Ackart was the daughter of Willard K. and Carrie Ackart. He was the superintendent of Elmwood Cemetery as of the 1905 census. Mabel, born in 1886, was a music teacher. She married David Donaha and died in 1921 of Bright’s disease. She and David, who died in 1938, are buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Schaghticoke.

Lora Agan Stover, see Stover

Hattie Allen Stark= see Stark

Edna Norton Atwood was the daughter of Edgar and Julia Norton of the Granville area. She was born in 1861, just about the time her father died. As of the 1865 NY census, she and her mother lived with her mother’s parents, Richard and Margaret Welling of White Creek.  In 1880, at age 17, Edna married Arthur Atwood, an English immigrant. They lived on the Johnsonville Road in Pittstown, where he was a farmer. After their marriage, Mrs. Norton moved in with her daughter and lived with them until her death. Although I can not find any trace of the couple having children, a newspaper article in 1918 reported that Edna was visiting her son and daughter, Mrs Lyman Wood, in Valley Falls.

Edna was a charter member of the DAR and was active in both the Woman’s Club and DAR through her married life. She was President of the Political Equality Club from 1908-1909 and again in 1920-1921.  For example, an article in the Troy “Times” on June 18, 1921 records that the Woman’s Club met at the home of Mrs. Flora Sproat. Edna, the President, presided. She read an article on “The American Citizen” as part of the program.  Edna died in 1938 and is buried in Cambridge.

 

Hattie Sherman Badger was the daughter of George and Emma Sherman, farmers of Pittstown. She was born about 1873 and married Irving Badger at age 15. They lived in Cambridge as of the 1900 US Census, but moved to Schaghticoke by the 1905 NY Census. Irving was at that point a farm laborer. Irving and Hattie had four children who survived. They moved into the village of Valley Falls by 1910 and lived on Lyon Street. Irving worked on the railroad and as a mill hand.  By the 1925 NY Census, her parents moved in with the couple, whose children had all left home. Irving died in 1927 of a heart attack. Hattie’s mother Emma died about the same time. Hattie died in 1938 of heart disease. She and Irving are buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

 

 

Emma Honsinger Ball lived in our area for about ten years. She was the daughter of Sarah Honsinger. We know this as her mother lived with her daughter while here in town.  Born about 1873, Emma married Frank S. Ball about 1890, probably in Pennsylvania. He was a traveling salesman, for many years for a company that sold leather belting, which would have been used to operate all kinds of mill machinery. The 1905 NY census found them living on Main Street in Valley Falls, near the Stovers, Rose Bedell, and Angeline Hoag, all early members of the Woman’s PEC. I believe that Frank had been married before, as when he and Emma were in Pittstown in 1900, they had been married ten years and had two children, Edward, 18, and Clara, 15. They had moved to Auburn, NY by 1910, where they stayed. So while Emma was involved in the starting of the PEC, she left soon after. She was alive as late as 1935.

 

Rosa Cannon Bedell was the daughter of Scottish immigrants John and Jennet Cannon. She was born in 1871, perhaps in Schaghticoke. Her father and two older sisters worked in the woolen mill. Rosa married Joseph Bedell in 1896. The 1905 NY census found them in the village of Valley Falls where he was the barber. They had three children, Reginald, then 9, and twins Rifford and Raymond, then 7. Rosa lived near the Stovers and Angeline Hoag, also early members of the PEC. Joseph died of edema of the lungs in 1921. Rosa soon moved to Troy, where she bought a large house on Grand Street. She lived there with Rifford, a railroad worker, and ran a boarding house. She died in 1949.

 

Julia Blanche Stover Clum  see Stover

 

Emma Colton/Cotton was a servant in the family of Frank and Edith Gifford. Edith was the sister of Blanche Stover Clum.  According to the census, Emma was 34, born in New York.  I have only found her in the census twice: in 1900, she was a servant for Frank Gifford, 31, and his mother Mary, 65. In the 1905 NY census, she was a servant in the family of Frank and Edith Gifford. Clearly, Edith brought her along to the early meetings of the PEC. Perhaps she married?  I just haven’t found her again.

In the 1880 census there was also a Catherine Cotton, age 19, as a servant in the family of Jedediah and Mary Gifford, parents of Frank Gifford, husband of Edith Stover, and Mabel Gifford, wife of John Hunter. It is possible that this is the same person as Emma, just slightly mis-named and mis-aged.

 

Miss Ella Fort was born about 1851, the daughter of Jacob and Margaret Fort. He was a farmer in the northern part of Schaghticoke. As of the 1870 US census, Ella was a public school teacher in Easton. In the 1900 US Census, the listing for the Forts was near that for Frank and Blanche Clum. By the 1905 NY Census, Ella, 54, was listed as the head of a household including her unmarried siblings: sister Mary, 64, and brothers Herman, 62, Lewis, 51, and John, 46. Her occupation was listed as “farmer” and the brothers as “partners.”  By the 1925 NY Census, just John and Ella survived, and they had moved to the village of Valley Falls, where they lived next door to Mary Sproat.

Ella was active in the Woman’s Club all of the rest of her life. On May 27, 1910, the newspaper reported that the PEC and friends surprised the President, Ella, on her birthday. She was presented with a handsome chair and stand, with forty guests present. She was the President in 1910-1911.  An article in the Troy “Times” on February 17, 1917 reported that the PEC had met. The roll call was answered by current events regarding temperance. A duet was sung by Mrs Harry Aiken and Mrs Palmer. A temperance poem was read by Mrs. Mary Lohnes. Mrs Mary Halliday read “Ten Reasons for Military Training,” and Ella read “Churches in Regard to Liquor Traffic.” Grace Aiken read “Woman’s Capacity for a Vote.” This was just before the US entered the war in April.   The Troy “Times” reported on July 20, 1917 that the PEC meeting would be at her home.   Later, an article in the Troy “Times” on April 13, 1926 reported that the Woman’s Club would meet the next day at the home of Mrs. George Rogers at Melrose. The program was to be an exhibition of Gustav Baumann wood block prints from the Santa Fe Museum and a lecture on “Art of Original Americans” by Mrs. Mary Lohnes, with tribal songs and Indian musical themes. Ella was on the refreshment committee. Ella died in 1928 and is buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

 

Clara Brownell Gifford was born in 1858, the daughter of Moses and Elizabeth Brownell, farmers in Pittstown. She was one of a large family. About 1880 she married Charles Gifford. The 1880 census found the couple living with his parents Seneca and Amy Gifford in Easton. This family had been in the area since the Revolution. Charles was a member of the Sons of the Revolution.   They remained in Easton, where Charles was a farmer, and had two sons, Chester and Ernest. As of the start of the Political Equality Club, Clara was the auditor, but it seems the family moved, so she may not have remained a member.  By the 1910 US Census, their residence was Cambridge, and Charles was a poultry farmer. And in the 1920 US Census, they were in South Cambridge, where Charles, now 65, was a salesman in son Ernest’s general store there. Charles died in 1928 and Clara in 1941. They are buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

 

Mary Barker Gifford was born in 1836. I’m not sure who her parents were, perhaps Richard and Hannah Barker, farmers of the Granville area. Mary married  Jediah Gifford, a son of Ira Gifford and Susan Cornell in 1855. Ira was a descendant of Elihu Gifford of Easton. They were well-off farmers on Masters Street. They had three children: Fred, who died as a child, Frank, and Mabel. Jediah was considerably older than Mary- he was born in 1819- and he died in 1894. By the time of the formation of the Woman’s Club, widow Mary lived with her son Frank, who had inherited the farm, and his wife Edith Stover, and their children Gordon and Mabel. Both Edith and her daughter Mabel, married to John Hunter, were involved in the PEC, along with Mary. This group spent winters in Orlando, Florida from at least 1912. Frank and Edith had a sort of hotel- or apartments- there. Their comings and goings were recorded in the pages of the Troy paper.

Mary was recorded in the 1930 US census, when she lived with her grandson George, who had the farm, his wife Jane, and his parents Frank and Edith, her son and daughter-in-law. She died December 28, 1930, described in her obituary as “one of the oldest residents of Rensselaer County.”

 

Mabel Gifford Hunter  see Hunter

Edith May Stover Gifford see Stover

 

Augusta Miller Hayner was born in 1855, the daughter of Leonard and Susanna Robinson Miller. Susanna was the grandson of local Revolutionary War veteran Nathaniel Robinson. Augusta was an early member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, joining in 1914 based on this grandfather’s service. He died just about ten years before she was born, so he was more than a distant memory. Her obituary states she was born in “Old Schaghticoke”, which would be the area around the Knickerbocker Mansion.

Augusta (or Gussie) married Schaghticoke farmer Schuyler Hayner in 1882. The couple had no children. Augusta lived near fellow PEC member Nellie Wiley as of the 1910 US Census. The farm was “in the town of Schaghticoke, about two miles north of the village of Valley Falls,” on Masters Street, according to her obituary. They were deeply involved in the area’s social and political life. Schuyler served as Supervisor of the town of Schaghticoke from 1910-1911. He was a member of the Odd Fellows and the Knights of Pythias.  Both were active in the Methodist Church. Augusta died in January 1918 and Schuyler died in 1919. Both were buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

Two articles in the Troy “Times” of October 1914 describe a meeting of the PEC at the home of Mrs. Mary Lohnes. Fifty people, composed of members and their spouses, ate a banquet prepared by Mary and Augusta Hayner. Augusta also sang a duet with Edith Gifford as part of the program. I am fascinated that this was an evening program for members AND spouses.

 

Elizabeth Herrington was the second wife of Silas Herrington, a merchant of Valley Falls. She was born in 1855. Unfortunately I have not discovered her maiden name. Silas, born in 1843, began life as a farmer. At age 36 he moved into Valley Falls and sold coal, lumber, lime, cement, straw, hay, grain, etc. with his partner Henry J. Herrington.  He and his first wife, Rachel Ingraham, had a daughter, Georgianna. Rachel died in 1898 and he married Elizabeth shortly after. In 1902, Georgianna was confined to Marshall Sanitarium in Troy, where she resided until her death in 1908.

An article in the newspaper in 1900 reported that Silas was extensively remodeling his home on Main Street in Valley Falls. The following year, the March 25, 1901 Troy “Times” reported that Silas and Elizabeth were about to return home from Winter Haven, Florida. So Silas and Elizabeth lived well. At the same time, they were very involved in the community and the Methodist Church. He was a Mason and church trustee and was Supervisor of Pittstown in 1907.  She was involved in the missionary activity of the church.

The December 12, 1907 Troy “Times” reported that a “birthday feast” was given by the PEC at their home. “Tables were decorated to represent the months of the year, and guests were seated at the table representing their birth month. Sixty were present and partook of a bountiful feast, after which Miss Christie of Troy entertained with recitations and Miss Edith Pennoyer of Round Lake with music.” Miss Pennoyer was Silas’ niece. I think this may have been a husband and wife event.

Silas died in 1909 and Elizabeth in 1917, of influenza. They are buried in Elmwood. Unfortunately, her death date was not added to their stone.

 

Angeline Sherman Pratt Hoag (Darrow) was born in 1872, the daughter of Andrew and Hannah Sherman Pratt. Besides the Sherman connection, her grandmother Angeline was an Akin and her great-grandmother Hannah was a Gifford. In the 1880 US Census, the family lived in North Adams, Massachusetts, where her dad was a railroad conductor. He died in 1883, her mom in 1894.

Angeline married U.S. Grant Hoag in 1897. In the NY census of 1905, taken around the time the PEC began, the little family lived in the village of Valley Falls, near several other members of the group, including Blanche Stover Clum. Grant was a mail carrier. He and Angeline had one son, Alton, aged 5. By the 1910 US census, the family had gone to live with Grant’s parents, Jonathan and Eliza Jane Hoag, on the family farm. We don’t know if this was because the aged couple needed help or if Grant was ill. He died in 1912 and is buried in Tomhannock.

Angeline was remarried to Fred Darrow, a farmer in Pittstown, by 1915. The 1920 U.S. Census found them together. Her son Alton worked as an auto mechanic. The Troy newspaper reported their involvement with the Tomhannock Methodist Church. Angeline maintained her interest in politics. An article in the Troy “Times” of September 15, 1923 reported that she was a Republican committee person for District 5 in Pittstown. There were several other women committee people, including Adah Lohnes, Anna Akin, Lydia Sheffer, Nellie Sherman, Lottie Renwick, and Adaline Brewster.

Frederick Darrow died in 1942, Angeline in 1952. Both are buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

 

Mary Brady Holliday is a bit different from many of her peers in the Political Equality Club. For one thing, she was the child of Irish immigrants, born in 1866. Her parents may have been Michael and Catherine Brady of Hoosick, but I’m not sure. She married Rufus Holliday of Pittstown. Rufus had been born in Greene County. According to his obituary, he moved to town about the time he married Mary in 1884. The 1900 US census listed them in Pittstown, where Rufus was a farm laborer. He and Mary had had six children, but just three were living as of that date: Raymond, Clarence, and Mabel. Shortly after this census, they moved to the village of Valley Falls, where the 1905 NY Census found them, Rufus working as a day laborer. Mary was living among many of the ladies who were involved with suffrage.

Whatever the reason, Mary quickly got involved in the Woman’s PEC and was elected to office, not only locally, but in the county. At the Second Annual Convention of the Rensselaer County Political Equality Club, she was elected President for the county. This day-long meeting was held at the Melrose Methodist Church on May 17, 1907. (Troy Daily Times) “The church was prettily decorated in yellow, the club colors. After a day of speeches and reports by the individual clubs, there was a supper served by the ladies of the church. In the evening, Rev. Anna H. Shaw, MD, President of the National Woman Suffrage Association gave a speech, and answered questions from the audience. She stated, “When we women are going out into the world with the men, what we want is justice. And we will let the hand-kissing chivalry go.”

In October 1908 (Troy Times, October 1, 1908) the Political Equality Clubs of Rensselaer and Washington Counties met at the Valley Falls Methodist Church. Mary gave one of the major speeches of the day. She gave a report on the general progress of women in the country, noting that there is much room for improvement. “Our forefathers fought for their liberty on the principle that “taxation without representation is tyranny”; and the women of today feel the same. We are taxed but we are not represented.” “Although we in our sheltered homes may not feel so keenly the need of the ballot, there are other women not so sheltered, not so well cared for, who need it for their protection and for their children’s sake, women who must go out into the world and take their place side by side with men in their struggle for their daily bread, and for the sake of other women less fortunate, if not for our own sakes, we should do what we can to secure the ballot for women.”

Meanwhile, Rufus and Mary continued to live in the Village of Valley Falls. She was President of the PEC from 1913-1916, through what must have been some of the most active years of the group.  The 1915 NY Census listed Rufus as a state road foreman. Daughter Mabel, 19, was still a student, evidently receiving some sort of higher education. The 1920 US Census found Rufus, 56, working as a teamster at the cotton mill. By the 1925 NY Census, he was back working on the road, and Mary was the census enumerator.  Mary continued her involvement with the Woman’s Club, serving again as President from 1919-1920. In 1920 (January 14), the Troy “Times” reported that the Woman’s Club met at her home. Now that suffrage was attained, the program turned to health, this time with discussion of the anti-tuberculosis campaign in the county.

Mary died in 1926. Sadly, I cannot find an obituary for her. Rufus died the following year at their daughter’s home in Saranac. Both are buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

 

Mary Stevenson (?) Hunt was born in 1858. Her interment record states she was born in Albany. About 1888 she married Lewis Hunt. Lewis was about ten years older, a widower and a Civil War veteran. The 1900 US census found them in Pittstown. Lewis was a traveling salesman. They moved to the village of Schaghticoke by the 1905 NY census, and Lewis became a rural mail carrier. That was the time when Mary would have been involved in the early meetings of the PEC. As of the 2nd Annual Convention of the Rensselaer County organization, she was an auditor for the association.

Unfortunately Mary died in 1915. Lewis survived until 1924. They are buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

 

Mabel Gifford Hunter was the daughter of Mary Barker and Jediah Gifford, born in 1870. She married miller and farmer John Hunter in 1892. They lived near her parents on Masters Street.  The 1910 U.S. census showed them: John, 55; Mabel, 40; and adopted daughter Margaret, 3.

Besides being involved in the PEC and the Methodist Church, Mabel was an early member of the D.A.R., joining with three different Revolutionary War ancestors.  And she was part of the committee which worked to establish the Valley Falls Library.  During World War I, she and her sister-in-law worked on organizing and funding knitting projects for the troops for the Red Cross.

John died in 1921. As usual, Mabel and Margaret spent the winter after his death in Orlando with her brother Frank Gifford and his wife Edith Stover. Mabel continued to live on Master Street with her daughter.  Her mother, profiled above, lived with her as of the 1925 census. Mabel died in 1938 and is buried in Elmwood Cemetery with her husband and many other Giffords.

 

Amanda Jones was briefly involved in the PEC. According to the census, she was born in Illinois, and her son Raymond in Virginia. The 1900 US Census found her in Rutland, Vermont. Husband Charles T. Jones, 43, was a cheese maker. Amanda, 38, had had two children, one living. Raymond was 7. As of the 1905 NYS census, they lived next door to Ella Fort, another founding member of the Political Equality Club. No doubt she took Amanda along. By the 1910 US Census , the family had moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where Charles was the overseer of a creamery. They stayed in Michigan, where I found the couple as late as 1930.

 

Hannah Thompson Lohnes, Estella and Isabella C. Lohnes

Hannah Thompson Lohnes was a daughter of James Thompson, Sr., owner of the Thompson Mill, largest employer in Valley Falls. She was born in New York City in 1858 and came with her family to Valley Falls about 1875 when her father bought the mill. In 1878 she married Adam Lohnes, who was a dyer at the mill. He was the brother of George, husband of Mary Lohnes, below.  They had three children:  James, Isabella, and Estella.

Hannah was the treasurer of the PEC from 1906-1907. The Troy paper records her as visiting with her step-mother in New York, and her sisters during this time. About 1911, Adam became an invalid. The 1915 NY Census records this fact, with daughter Isabella listed as “invalid nurse.” Hannah died “after a short illness” on February 16, 1919. Her obituary stated she was “a prominent resident of Valley Falls,” and reported her membership in the Woman’s Club. She was survived by children Isabella and James of Valley Falls, and Estella, (Mrs. A.A. Baker) of Boston, and her sisters Mrs. William Cannon of Washington and Mrs. Thomas Doran of Valley Falls.

 Estella and Isabella C. Lohnes were the daughters of Adam and Hannah Thompson Lohnes.  Undoubtedly they were brought along to the PEC with their mother. Estella married Albert Asa Baker before 1910 and moved away.  Albert was a Naval officer. He and Estella moved around the country, from San Diego to Wyoming, meanwhile having four children. Estella died in 1968 and is buried in Elmwood Cemetery. Albert died the following year and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Isabella stayed on with her father after the death of her mother. A few social newspaper stories speak about her living in Troy and North Adams, Massachusetts, but by 1930 or so she was back in Valley Falls. Then the articles mention her participation in bridge clubs. She died at Greenwood Nursing Home in Melrose in 1956. She was fully enmeshed in the local society.

 

Mary Clum Lohnes was born in 1870, I think in the town of Brunswick. I first found her in the 1880 US census in Schaghticoke when she was living with her big sister Florence and her husband Augustus Ackart. In 1900 she married George Lohnes, the brother of Adam (see Hannah, Estella, and Isabella Lohnes.) George was a widower. His first wife, Mary Sproat, had died in 1898. Mary Sproat was the sister of William and Charles Sproat, married to two other members of the P.E.C. George and Mary Clum had one son, Carl, born in 1902. George was involved in a number of businesses, including coal, chemicals, fire insurance, and wood products. He was also very involved in the Elmwood Cemetery Association, and fraternal organizations, and was the financial officer when the Valley Falls Library was built in 1913. He was in business with the Gaffneys, who financed the library. He was also very involved with the Methodist Church. Mary mirrored these interests, with her involvement with the PEC, and the church.

The Troy “Times” of October 23, 1914 reported “Mrs George W. Lohnes and Mrs. Schuyler Hayner will entertain the members and their husbands of the Political Equality Club tomorrow night at the home of Mrs. George Lohnes. An interesting program has been prepared by Mrs. Frank Clum and Mrs. R.B. Halliday.” The newspaper reported many visits to and from the Lohnes’ to relatives, and a motor trip to Maryland in 1915. This is an early date for such a trip.

Mary died in 1921, George in 1931. Both are buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

 

Miss Jennie Mallory is for now mostly woman of mystery. She is in the 1900 US Census for Schaghticoke. Fred Mallory, 38, was a butter maker. His wife Harriet, 26, had had no children. In their family was his sister, Jennie, 38. I believe that she and her twin Fred were from Oneida County. They were briefly here, then went back home. By the 1910 US Census Fred was a dairy farmer there. Jennie continued to live with his family.

 

Mary Ackart May was born in 1870, a daughter of Edward and Mary Ackart, farmers in Schaghticoke. In 1893 she became the second wife of William May of Valley Falls. William, born in Canada, was at the time the assistant superintendent of the Powder Mill, rising to become Superintendent about 1910. William and his first wife, Helen Hatch, had had six children. Mary and William had two children together, Gertrude and Gordon.

The NY Census of 1905, at the time of the founding of the PEC, showed the family living on Charles Street in the village of Valley Falls. William, 56, and Mary, 36, had two of his sons at home, Charles, 23, and Harry, 21, both working at the mill with their dad. Gertrude was 18 and Gordon was 7. William was very active in the life of the village, in Republican politics, and the Methodist Church, where he served as trustee and Superintendent of the Sunday School for many years. He was on the committee which debated the location of the new library in 1913. Mary certainly was involved in the church as well as the PEC and a purely social group called the Birthday Club. The newspaper reported the Mays both visiting and being visited by family and friends. William bought a new car in 1915.

William died in 1921. The 1925 NY census found Mary living on Lyons Street in the village with her son Gordon and his wife plus her father Edward Ackart, 85, and sister Frances, 53. The Troy “Times Record” article of 1953 about the Golden Anniversary of the PEC ran a photo of Jennie and Hattie Stark and Mary May, the three surviving charter members of the group.  Mary continued to live in Valley Falls, dying in 1968. Her obituary mentions her membership in the Woman’s Club of Valley Falls, successor to the PEC, as well as the Methodist Church and the Victorian Chapter of the OES. She and William are buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

 

Margaret Marvin Mitchell was born in 1865 in Hebron, the daughter of farmers William and Margaret Marvin, Canadian immigrants and farmers. In 1888 she married Joseph Mitchell. As of the 1900 US census, they lived in Cambridge: Joseph, 35, was a carpenter. He and Margaret, 34, had no children. By the 1905 NY census, they had moved to the village of Valley Falls, and lived next door to the Mays. Mary May was another founding member of the P.E.C.

Joseph went to work for the powder mill, certainly a good paying job, but, depending on what he did, dangerous. The 1920 US Census listed him as a millwright. He and Margaret lived next door to Flora Sproat, another member of the Woman’s Club. Margaret was also a member of the Birthday Club in the village, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and the Methodist Church. She served as an officer in the co-ed Epworth League of the church, was in the Ladies’ Aid Society, and taught Sunday School.

Joseph and Margaret continued to live in the village until Joseph’s death in 1928, and Margaret’s in 1935. They were buried in Cambridge.

 

Etta Morley- I could find no sign of this woman.

 

Elizabeth Cannon Parker was born in Scotland in 1856. She came to the U.S. as a toddler, according to the 1900 US Census. She married tinsmith Joseph Parker around 1880. They lived in Pittstown as of the 1880 US Census, when they had a daughter Mary, 1. By the 1900 US census, they lived in the village of Valley Falls and had a second child, Joseph, age 9. Joseph’s occupation was listed as “merchant”, but he was a tinsmith again in the NY 1905 census. Presumably he made and sold tinware, maybe other hardware. Elizabeth was listed in that census as a milliner, so perhaps the store sold her hats as well. Daughter Mary, then 26, was a school teacher. So Elizabeth, unique among the first members of the PEC, had a job beyond that of wife, mother, and farm wife.

Elizabeth was President of the PEC from 1909-1910 and again in 1918-1919.   The Troy “Times” reported on September 15, 1911 that she was elected treasurer of the Rensselaer County Women’s Suffrage Convention, held in Valley Falls.   Meanwhile the 1910 US census had listed her with no occupation beyond homemaker. Her father, Joseph Cannon, had moved in with the family, so she had the responsibility of his care as well. He died in 1919.

The 1930 US Census listed Joseph, 76, as the proprietor of a hardware store, along with Elizabeth, 74. The Troy newspaper reported her many comings and goings, visiting friends and relatives, and her activity in the Order of the Eastern Star, the Birthday Club, and something called “the Five Hundred Club.”  She died in 1934 and he in 1938. Both are buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

 

 

Charlotte Welch Pratt was born in England, as was her husband John. They came to the U.S. after their marriage in 1882. The 1905 NY Census found them in Valley Falls, where John, 49, worked in the Thompson Mill. He and Charlotte, 47, had four of their children living with them: Reginald, 22, a college student; Lillian, 18; Roy, 15, a clerk; and Vernon, 13. They had another daughter, Lottie, who was just a bit younger than Lillian.  In the village, they lived near quite a few of the founding members of the PEC.

Besides her involvement in the club, Charlotte was very involved with the societies of the Methodist Church. She was an officer in the Ladies’ Aid Society, and held a food sale on her lawn to benefit the Home Mission Society in 1915. The Troy newspaper reported her activities in these organizations and the travels of her children to visit right up until her death in 1922. John died in 1940. They are buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

 

Florence Stark Searles see Florence Stark

 

Georgia, Jennie and Mary Sproat

Mary Andrew Sproat was the daughter of Christopher and Ann Andrew, farmers in Pittstown. She was born in 1858. She married William Sproat of Valley Falls about 1879. He had a market in the village as of the 1880 US census. They had a son George, age just one month. William and his brother Charles, husband of Georgia, were sons of Henry and Harriet Sproat, who had moved to Valley Falls just after 1860. Henry was a paper manufacturer, born in England, who died in 1870. William and Charles lived next door to each other and their widowed mother.

At the time the P.E.C. began, William was listed in the 1905 NY census as a butcher. Son George had already married Jennie McKee, and lived just down the street, but their other child, daughter Hattie or Irene, then 22, lived at home. William died in 1912.

I found many mentions of visits of Mary to George and Jennie, who moved to Troy, and vice versa, but just one mention of her suffrage activity. On October 28, 1915, she and Mrs. George Lohnes, Mrs Joseph Parker, and Mrs Frank Clum attended a mass suffrage meeting in Troy. Mary died in 1928. She and William are buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

 

Georgia Bennett Sproat was the second wife of Charles A., usually called C.A. Sproat, brother of William. After his first wife Laura died in 1881, Charles married Georgia in 1883. She was the daughter of George and Caroline Bennet of Green Island, born in 1864. Charles and Georgia had one son, Frank, born in 1889. The 1900 US Census found them living in Pittstown, where Charles was a cigar manufacturer. By the 1910 US Census, his son Charles, now a doctor, lived with them, as did Georgia’s mother, now a widow. They lived next door to William’s meat market in the village of Valley Falls, so near to other members of the PEC.  Charles married Flora Thompson, daughter of mill owner James Thompson.

Georgia was prominent in the PEC, serving as President in 1907. The Troy “Times” of May 18, 1907 reported that she read a report of the peace conference at a county convention at the Melrose Methodist Church. She continued to be involved in the club until her death in 1929, serving as a hostess of the Woman’s Club in 1928. She was also on the board which organized the Valley Falls Library in 1907. C.A. Sproat died in 1928 and is buried in Elmwood. When Georgia died the following year, she was interred in Greenwich for reasons I do not know. (Post Star, April 8, 1929) I heard a story from a great-granddaughter of the Sproats that C.A. complained that his wife’s suffrage activities might cause him to lose business, but it would seem that this did not make Georgia cease her intense involvement.

 

Jane McKee Sproat- not sure who she was

 

Florence Stark Searles and Jennie Stark were the daughters of John and Mary Stark. John was a miller in Valley Falls, who died in 1866, leaving Mary, 32, with the girls: Florence just 5 and Jennie 1. The 1880 US census found them living in Valley Falls: Mary, 47; Jennie, 15; plus son-in-law John Searles, 21, a wholesale butcher, and his wife, the former Florence Stark, 19, a dress maker.

John and Florence farmed for some years in Pittstown. The 1900 US census found them there. Mary and Jennie lived with them. Mary died the same year the PEC began, 1903, and the 1905 NY Census found John and Florence, with Jennie, living in the Village of Valley Falls. Both women joined the organization.  An article in the Troy “Times” in May 1907 noted that Florence and Jennie jointly hosted a meeting of the PEC. An article in the Troy “Times Record” in April 1943 noted that the two women had prepared the refreshments for a meeting of the Woman’s Club, showing their involvement with the organization for over forty years.

Florence and Jennie were active in the Methodist Church as well. Florence served as an officer in the Ladies’ Aid Society. She was also active in the Birthday Club, the Five Hundred Club, and a bridge club. A note in the Troy paper in 1915 indicated that “Florence Searles bought a new car.” Another little article in September 1920 noted that Mrs. George Lohnes, Mrs. Florence Searles, Mrs. C.A. Sproat, Mrs. Mary G. Sproat, Mrs. Joseph Parker, Mrs. B.G. Hull, Mrs Emma Carpentier, Mrs. Rufus Halliday, and Miss Jennie Stark motored to Maryland today.” Nine women..one car?? How many days? Why?

The little family of three stayed together until John and Florence died in 1943. Jennie survived until 1955. All are buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

Jennie was one of the three charter members of the PEC participating in the Golden Anniversary celebration of the Woman’s Club in 1953. The Troy “Times Record” of May 13, 1955 stated that the Woman’s club “paid tribute to its oldest member, Miss Jennie Stark, as she celebrated her 90th birthday”, noting her active participation while the club worked for woman’s suffrage. Jennie was particularly interested in the scholarship fund of the group, and was still acting as membership chairperson for club.  Jennie was also active in the Methodist Church’s Women’s Society of Christian Service.

 

 

 

ThomHattie Allen Stark was born in 1869, the daughter of Ebenezer Deuel (1816-1900) and Mary Barker Allen (1824-1911). “Eben” was a descendant of Captain Thomas Allen who had been a whaling captain at the time of the Revolution and came to Barker’s Grove about 1800. According to Betsey Welling”s “They were here too”, Hattie was really Henrietta.  The 1880 US Census for Easton found Ebenezer, 64, a carriage painter, and Mary, 55, both partially deaf, daughters Mattie, 20, and Nellie, 18, both teachers, plus Hattie, 11, and Aaron, 15, listed “at home”.

Hattie married Charles Allen Stark, “Al,” in 1896. They lived on the Stark farm where the Valley Falls-Easton Road crosses Masters Street. They had one son, Raymond, who married Freda Anderson. Freda Stark was the librarian in Valley Falls and a member of the Woman’s Club for many, many years. Their son was John Stark, wife of Janet Kardas Stark, a new member of the Woman’s Club. Their daughter Virginia died of leukemia as a young child. Their daughter Thelma married Dr. Donald Rymph, the veterinarian in Easton. Charles died of a heart attack in 1933.

Hattie was a life-long member of the PEC and the Woman’s Club. Newspaper articles through the years record her as a constant on the refreshment committees of various meetings. She was also very active in the Women’s Society of Christian Service, sponsored by the Valley Falls Methodist Church. The Troy “Times Record” ran a photo of her, Jennie Stark, and Mrs. Mary May, the three surviving charter members of the PEC at the Golden Jubilee of the group in 1953. Hattie died of heart disease in 1964 at age 95. She and “Al” are buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

 

 

Julia Blanche Stover Clum, Edith May Stover Gifford, and Lois Stover Bassett and Lora Agan Stover

Julia Blanche, Edith, and Lois were the daughters of Daniel and Anna Bryan Stover (1841-1910). Their brother was Peter. Daniel (1843-1914) was a farmer in Pittstown.  Beginning with Blanche, born in 1867, the first thing I ever heard about her was that when the new bridge across the Hoosic River at Valley Falls was completed in 1891, she rode her horse across the bridge first, by-passing the assembled dignitaries. I have not found any written account of this; the Troy paper notes that farmer Charles Sherman, who had provided much of the wood used in the construction, was by chance the first to drive his horse and wagon across the bridge; but the story is a very important one to Blanche’s descendants, and it marks her as a woman meaning to stand apart from the crowd.

Blanche married farmer Frank Clum in 1893. He was the son of Ira and Susan Clum of Brunswick. By 1880, Frank was living with his grandparents in Pittstown, following the death of his mother. Blanche and Frank had two children, Paul, born in 1896, and Daniel, born in 1898. They lived on Master Street in the town of Schaghticoke, where Frank was a farmer. Neighbors included the Starks and the Forts. Blanche became involved in the Easton Political Equality Club at some point. She was mentioned in an article about a club meeting in the Schuylerville “Standard” on July 2, 1902: “Mrs Frank Clum read a devotional poem.” At the meeting, the club adopted a resolution for “the formation of better morals than are practiced by some of our citizens.” One wonders what prompted that resolution.

The next year, Blanche was the moving force behind the formation of the new Political Equality Club in Valley Falls. She was the second President, and if she didn’t always hold some sort of office, she was busy attending county and state conventions of suffrage organizations and the State Federation of Women’s Clubs, right up until her death.  She was also very active in the Methodist Church in Valley Falls, a founder of the Women’s Home Missionary Society. It is widely acknowledged that without Blanche, there would have been no club. A further measure of her importance is that the four volumes of “A History of Woman’s Suffrage” by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Matilda Josyln Gage, were presented by Susan B. Anthony to Blanche in 1905 by name. Susan intended the books to be used as sources of information and education at meetings of the Political Equality Club.  Blanche wrote this poem, still included in the program booklet of the organization, which summarizes the history up to that point.

 

Poem: “Our Voyage” by B. Clum

Listen my friends and you shall hear

Of a Suffrage Club we hold so dear.

It was on May 13, 1903

When we organized for Equality.

Many are here who remember that date,

When we sailed off in our ship of state.

Rev. Anna Shaw gave us the lead,

And Rev. R.A. Dearstyne bid us God speed.

Our sailing, my friends, was not all fair.

We met with obstacles everywhere.

The antis tried our ship to wreck,

But we cleverly swept them from the deck.

They followed us in every zone.

To tell us “Woman’s place is home.”

But this is past, I’m glad to relate,

And we’ll all make good in the Empire State.

We soon joined the Federation fleet,

Which made our journey more complete,

To be a part of this great crew,

Gave us courage and life anew.

For 15 years we weathered the blast,

13 charter members held fast.

15 youngsters, we’re proud to say

Came to cheer us on our way.

On November 6, 1917,

Our longed for pact was plainly seen.

We landed our ship “Democracy,”

In the land of the brave and the home of the free.

Our aim accomplished, we now change our name,

But to work for humanity just the same.

Ready to do our bit when duty calls,

Long live the “Woman’s Club”

Of Valley Falls and Vicinity.

 

 

 

In February 1911, William May’s diary (p 78) notes “Frank Clum’s auction”. On March 7, he notes “Lois & Bassett moved on Clum’s farm”- this would be Blanche’s sister Lois and her husband Clarence Bassett. The house burned in 1914.  At this point Blanche and Frank must have moved into the village of Valley Falls.  Was this to be closer to the various societies to which Blanche belonged? Was it for the boys to attend high school?  They bought the Elwell house in March 1914.

The 1915 NY Census showed that Frank, 46, owned or ran a garage in the village.  About the same time, the Clums began to spend their winters in Orlando, Florida. William May’s diary (p 111) for Nov 27, 1915 notes “Giffords, Clums, May Truman went to Florida in autos.”  The Troy paper was full of notices of their coming and going to Florida, and her activities in various societies. Blanche died August 23, 1919 at her sister Edith’s home. Her obituary stated she was “a woman of exceptional ability.” She is buried in Elmwood Cemetery. The Elmwood records state she died of heart disease. Frank survived until 1948.

Edith Stover, born in 1872, married Frank Gifford in 1901. He was the son of Jediah and Mary Gifford, farmers on Masters Street. Mary and her daughter Mabel- Mabel Gifford Hunter- were also members of the PEC. After Jediah died in 1894, Frank inherited the 215 acre farm.  The Giffords lived near the Clums. The 1905 NY Census showed the little family, Frank, 37; Edith, 33; Gordon, 1; and Mabel, 3/12, plus his mother Mary, 57, a widow; and Emma Cotton or Colton, a servant. Emma also attended meetings of the club.

At some point before 1912, Frank and Edith purchased and began to operate a hotel in Orlando, Florida. This was very early in the tourist history of Florida. They kept their farm in Schaghticoke, but spent winters in Florida. Janet Weber said that supposedly Aunt Edith had delicate health, but she far out-lived her sister Blanche. Relatives joined them every winter. The business gradually grew, and was operated both by their son Gordon and his son Otis. In 1937 the Troy paper reported that Gordon and his father had completed their new apartment house in Orlando.

Meanwhile, Edith joined her sisters, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law in the PEC and the Methodist Church. During World War I, the sisters did war work. For example, the Troy “Times” reported September 28, 1917, “the card party held at Mrs Frank Clum’s for the benefit of the Red Cross netted $13. The next one will be held at Mrs. John Hunter’s (Mabel Gifford)  Tuesday p.m. There was an all-day meeting at Mrs. Frank Gifford’s Tuesday, when knitting was taught and wool distributed to knitters.” On May 4, 1918, “Surgical dressings class will be held at the Baptist church by Mrs. Frank Gifford assisted by Mrs. Frank Clum.” Edith was also the leader of the choir at the Methodist Church.

Edith died April 18, 1955. Her obituary described her as the sister of former County Clerk Peter Stover of Valley Falls.  The funeral was from the home of her daughter Mabel, who had married Carl Lohnes. Their sons were Richard and Robert. The obituary doesn’t mention Frank, but he died in 1957. They are buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

 

Lois Stover, born in 1887, was listed in the 1905 NY census in Valley Falls as a music teacher. She lived with her parents, Daniel, 65, and Anna, 64. She married Clarence Bassett in 1910. Clarence was a son of Charles and Patience Bassett, farmers in Easton. As I mentioned above, they moved into her sister Blanche’s farm house the next year. Their son Bryan was born that same year. According to William May’s diary, the Bassett home (Frank Clum’s farm house) burned in March 1914. If the Bassetts were still living there, perhaps it is why they lived in Troy that winter (Troy “Times” December 1, 1914). Lois was also very involved in the Methodist Church and the Order of the Eastern Star. In February 1916 she sang as part of ceremonies at the Methodist Church honoring Lincoln.

Lois participated with the PEC at least from 1908, when she was listed as giving a recitation at a meeting. On August 10, 1917, she entertained the members of the PEC. On July 25, 1931, she attended a huge meeting of the Woman’s Club for the summer picnic at Hedges Lake, and was announced as the hostess of the next meeting. This implies a life-long association, as she died in 1934 of peritonitis. Clarence died in 1964. Both are buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

 

             Lora Agan Stover was the only child of Charles and Margaret Agan, farmers who lived in White Creek as of the 1900 US Census. In 1904 she married Peter L. Stover, the only son of Daniel and Anna Stover of Valley Falls, and the brother of Blanche, Edith, and Lois. As of the 1905 NYS census, the couple lived next door to his parents in Valley Falls. Peter, 22, was listed as a farmer. Laura was 21. By the 1910 US census, Peter was listed as a horse farmer and he and Lora had two children, Charles, 3; and Blanche, 9 months old.  Despite having young children, Lora began to be active in the PEC shortly after her marriage and was active for the rest of her life. She was first President in 1911 and 1912, then in 1916 and 1917, and again in 1934-36. She and Peter were enmeshed in the social life of Valley Falls: the Methodist Church, the bridge club, etc.

Peter and Lora added a daughter, Helen, to their family in 1917. In that year, Peter acted as the registrar for  the World War I draft in Valley Falls.  By the 1930 US Census, Peter was listed as a travelling salesman for a feed store. He went on to become the Rensselaer Deputy County Clerk by the 1940 US census. His niece Jane Betsey Welling stated that he was Supervisor of the town of Pittstown for two terms, Mayor of Valley Falls, and County Clerk. Lora was President of the local school board, quite an achievement for a woman at the time. She was also town historian of Pittstown, right until her death in 1970.

An article in the Troy “Times Record” on September 15, 1932, reported on the annual meeting of the Woman’s Club of Valley Falls at the Mechanicville Golf Club. At that point, Lora was the treasurer of the Floral Fund. The meeting celebrated the bicentennial of the birth of George Washington. The wedding of George and Martha Custis was acted out by members in costume Mrs. Mabel Lohnes was Martha, Mrs. Rosetta Clark was George. Neda Club was the maid of honor, Helen Stover (daughter of Lora) was a bridesmaid, along with Alice Nible, Ruth Sherman, Grace Akin, and Ann Badger. Lela Clark was the flower girl, and Richard Lohnes, son of Carl Lohnes and Mabel Gifford (daughter of Edith Stover), (and former village of Schaghticoke historian), was the ring bearer. The clergyman was Dorothy Becker. Lora and Mrs. Hattie Serrell presided over the refreshments in Colonial costumes.

At the Golden Jubilee Luncheon of the Woman’s Club, reported on May 14, 1953 in the Troy “Times Record”, “Mrs Lora Stover was the narrator of the historical program which covered the changing club interests from the Early crusade for Political Equality, the founding of the Valley Falls Library, the continuing programs covering history, government, civics, literature, art, and music, through the present day emphasis upon social service and educational aid for students. Charter members and officers of the club appeared in the costumes of 1903 and paid honor to the late Mrs Blanche Stover Clum, who founded the club.”

If Blanche Stover Clum founded the club, Lora Agan Stover continued it and preserved its history.

 

 

 

 

Fannie Stover Welling was born in 1869, a child of Albert and Mary Stover.  At the time of her birth, her family lived in Davenport, Iowa. But they moved back to the Stover homestead by 1873. As of the 1880 census, they lived in Pittstown, where Albert was a coal dealer. He was a brother of Daniel Stover, father of Blanche, Edith, Lois, and Peter Stover. Albert died shortly after the census was taken, of a delayed reaction to an accident with a horse.

Despite the loss of her father, Fannie managed to attend Albany Normal School and become a teacher. She married John Welling in 1893. After starting their marriage in Lansingburgh, Fannie and John moved to Valley Falls in 1903. The 1905 NY census listed John, 34, as a path master. He and Fanny, 35, had three children, Jane, John, and Lois. Another son, Stoughton, had died in 1904. The family stayed in Valley Falls until John’s death in 1916, when Fannie moved to Hudson Falls, joining her sister. They spent summers in Easton, and the 1930 census listed Fanny there. She died in 1941.

John and Fannie’s daughter Jane was educated at Smith College and was the author of “They Were Here Too”, which recorded the genealogy and history of the founding families of Easton.

 

Hannah Thompson Lohnes= see Hannah Lohnes

 

Caroline Smodell Thompson was the wife of James Thompson, Jr., who became owner of the Thompson Mills in Valley Falls upon the death of his father in 1915. Carrie was the daughter of George and Elizabeth Smodell, immigrants from Germany. As of the 1870 US census, they lived in Stillwater, where George was an undertaker. They had seven children at that point, with Caroline, born in 1861, the second oldest.

Carrie married James about 1879. As of the 1880 US census they were living in a boarding house in the village of Valley Falls, James was listed as a bookkeeper, and they had a daughter Mary, 9 months old. By the 1900 US census, the census listed Caroline as having had six children, five living, all  daughters: Mary, Flora, Elizabeth, Caroline, and Viola. At least Caroline went to Emma Willard School in Troy.

Carrie was hostess for a meeting of the PEC in 1907, and participated in a program the next year. Then she is no longer mentioned in the programs. This makes sense, as though the census continued to list the Thompsons in Valley Falls, by 1910 they owned a large home in the city of Saratoga Springs. There Caroline and her daughters entered fine society. In 1910 Flora married Dr. Charles Sproat of Valley Falls. Following James’ death in 1915, Caroline moved to her home on Union Avenue in Saratoga. As of the 1920 census, she lived there with just daughter Elizabeth and four servants. In old age, she returned to her home in Valley Falls, where the census listed her in 1935 and on. She died in 1951.

 

Lucy Larkin Thompson was the second wife of mill owner James Thompson, Sr.. James came to the U.S. from Ireland as a grown man, experienced in textile manufacturing. He began the Thompson Mill in the village of Valley Falls about 1875. This was the biggest employer of local residents for many years. James’ first wife, Isabel, had died in 1879.

According to the marriage certificate, Lucy was born in Joliet, Illinois in 1853, the daughter of Benjamin and Ruth Larkin. She lived in Jonesville, Michigan when they were married in 1882. I have no idea how they would have met. They had one son, Leslie. James died in 1899, aged 66. As of the 1905 census, Lucy, age 51, and son Leslie, 21, lived in the village. She had spent the previous winter in Cuba.  Her stepson, James, who took over the mill from his father, lived next door with his wife Carrie, and five children.

I can only imagine that Blanche Stover Clum would have asked Lucy to become involved with the new PEC as she was one of the most prominent women in the village. Lucy was the first President of the group, from 1903-1906.  She moved to New York City about 1910. She made frequent visits to Valley Falls, and traveled to Europe.   Lucy died in 1934, age 81. I believe she was interred in Elmwood Cemetery with her husband, though her death date was not added to the stone.

Flora Longfellow Sawyer Turknett was definitely an exotic member of the PEC. Born in 1868 in Bath, Maine, Flora was the daughter of James Sawyer and Lucy Sargent. The 1900 US Census for Syracuse found her living with her parents. James was a clergyman. Flora was a widow (Of Robert Turknett) who had had one child, then deceased. The PEC began in 1903 and Flora was listed as a member from 1906-1907. At the same time, she was on the committee working on building the Valley Falls Library.  It is possible that her father was a clergyman locally, just missing the census count years. I didn’t find her in the 1905 census, but in 1910 she was living with her father in the town of Colonie. He was then widowed and Flora, 42, was listed as a “writer of literature.”  I have found that she wrote books for young people, among them “Esther in Maine,” and “Esther in the Thousand Islands.”

How did Flora end up in Schaghticoke? She was an early member of D.A.R., so she could have met one of the local women who was also a member. And she was very involved in the Methodist Church and its missionary society, another possible venue to meet local women. Flora died of insanity at the Maine State Hospital in 1919.

Fannie Stover Welling = see Fannie Stover  

Nellie Hale Wiley was born in Benson, Vermont in 1863. She married William J. Wiley in Vermont in 1885. The 1905 NY Census found them farming next door to Edith Stover Gifford on Master Street. William, 46, and Nellie, 42, had two children, Elvah, 18, and Allen 14.

Nellie was very involved with the PEC.  In 1911 (Troy Times September 15, 1911) she was elected President of the Rensselaer County Woman’s Suffrage Society’s convention in Valley Falls. Lora Stover was the recording secretary and Blanche Clum the corresponding secretary. The guest of honor was Miss Hay of New York, President of the State Federation of Women’s Clubs. Topics discussed at the conference were the worldwide movement for suffrage, child labor laws, and benefits of the work of woman’s clubs. Nellie was also an early member of the DAR. She was also often an officer in the Ladies’ Aid Society of the Methodist Church.

By the 1920 US census, Elva was a nurse, and Allen a bookkeeper for Standard Oil. William died in 1928, and Nellie moved into the village of Valley Falls. She died in Vermont in 1930. She and William are buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

 

The Political Equality Club of Valley Falls

 

2017 marks the 100th anniversary of woman’s suffrage in New York State. In November of that year, the state’s men voted to give women the right to vote. The 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which extended suffrage to all eligible women in the country, was not adopted until 1920.

The Woman’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848 is often marked as the start of the woman suffrage movement. A group of like-minded women issued their “Declaration of Sentiments”, a listing of their goals, at that event. It was authored by one of the best-known leaders of the movement, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, of Johnstown. Of course the other leader of the movement was Susan B. Anthony, who spent her formative years near Greenwich. Women were prompted to begin working for their own rights after participating in two other reform movements of the 1800’s:  for the abolition of slavery and for temperance.

The Civil War derailed the woman suffrage movement, and when the war was over, the abolitionists, who had been partners with the suffragists, abandoned the women to call only for black men to get the vote, which occurred with the passage of the 15th amendment in 1870. This was the first time the word “male” appeared in the U.S. Constitution. Suffragists were very bitter at this development. They had worked hard for abolition, but the men must not have truly supported their wish for women to get the vote.

There was some national progress: the territory of Wyoming adopted woman suffrage in 1869, Utah in 1870, Colorado in 1893, and Idaho in 1896. New York adopted a measure to allow women to vote in school elections in 1892. There were a couple of national organizations working for woman suffrage, but not much progress was made. The movement was divided. Some women concentrated only on getting the vote, while others advocated for the vote plus other woman’s rights, such as equal pay for equal work.

After 1890, the various organizations joined into the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were still among the leaders, though by this time getting to be quite elderly.

susan b anthony

the elderly superstars of woman’s suffrage, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton

At the same time, people in the U.S. started to have more and more free time, as there was increasing mechanization of work. Both men and women responded by forming and joining clubs and organizations of all kinds. Many organizations were formed within churches; men also had both the Masons and the Odd Fellows; men and women began card playing clubs, etc. etc.

The national woman suffrage organization encouraged women to form Political Equality clubs. There were at least thirty around New York State by 1906. The earliest area club was in Easton, formed in 1891. Susan B. Anthony’s sister Mary influenced the formation of the club and encouraged it over the years. One of the members of the club was Blanche Stover Clum of Schaghticoke and Valley Falls. She was active in Easton until 1902, when an article in the Schuylerville “Standard” reported her giving the prayer at a meeting.

 

 

Who knows what the spark was, but Blanche and other women in the Valley Falls/Schaghticoke area formed their own club on May 13, 1903. The first President was Lucy Thompson, followed by Blanche. Lucy Allen, the main force behind the Easton club, described them as a “large and influential group of women.”

Let me tell you a bit about the first President of the Political Equality Club and about its guiding light.

Lucy Larkin Thompson

                Lucy was the second wife of mill owner James Thompson, Sr. James came to the U.S. from Ireland as a grown man, experienced in textile manufacturing. He began the Thompson Mill in the village of Valley Falls about 1875. This was the biggest employer of local residents for many years. James’ first wife, Isabel, had died in 1879.

According to the marriage certificate, Lucy was born in Joliet, Illinois in 1853, the daughter of Benjamin and Ruth Larkin. She lived in Jonesville, Michigan when they were married in 1882. I have no idea how they would have met. They had one son, Leslie. James died in 1899, aged 66. As of the 1905 census, Lucy, age 51, and son Leslie, 21, lived in the village of Valley Falls. Her stepson, James, who took over the mill from his father, lived next door with his wife Carrie, and five children.

I can only imagine that Blanche Stover Clum would have asked Lucy to become involved with the new Political Equality Club as she was one of the most prominent women in the village and might inspire others to join. Lucy was the first President of the group, from 1903 to 1906. She was also one of the first trustees of the Valley Falls Library Association, formed in 1905. The first village library was in a room at the Thompson Mill.

Lucy moved to New York City about 1910. Thereafter she made frequent visits to Valley Falls, and traveled to Europe.   Lucy died in 1934, age 81. I believe she was interred in Elmwood Cemetery with her husband, though her death date was not added to the stone.

Now let me move on to the real force behind the Valley Falls Political Equality Club, Blanche Stover Clum.

IMG_7559

She was the daughter of farmers Daniel and Anna Bryan Stover of Pittstown. Her sisters Edith Stover Gifford and Lois Stover Bassett were also involved in the club as was her sister-in-law Lora, wife of her brother Peter Stover. Lora was President for many years.

Blanche was born in 1867. The first thing I ever heard about Blanche was that when the new bridge across the Hoosic River at Valley Falls was completed in 1891, she rode her horse across the bridge first, by-passing the assembled dignitaries. I have not found any written account of this; the Troy paper notes that farmer Charles Sherman, who had provided much of the wood used in the construction, was by chance the first to drive his horse and wagon across the bridge; but the story is a very important one to Blanche’s descendants, and it marks her as a woman meaning to stand apart from the crowd.

Blanche married farmer Frank Clum in 1893. He was also born in 1867,  the son of Ira and Susan Clum of Brunswick. By 1880 he lived with his grandparents, farmers in Pittstown, following the death of his mother. Blanche and Frank had two children, Paul, born in 1896, and Daniel, born in 1898. They farmed on Master Street in the town of Schaghticoke. Neighbors included Ella Fort and Jennie and Hattie Stark, who would become charter members of the Political Equality Club.

As I said earlier, at some point, Blanche became involved in the Easton Political Equality Club, and in May 1903 she was the moving force behind the formation of the new Political Equality Club in Valley Falls. She was the second President, and always held some sort of office in the club. She also represented the group at county and state conventions of suffrage organizations and of the State Federation of Women’s Clubs. She was very active in the Methodist Church in Valley Falls, a founder of its Women’s Home Missionary Society. In addition, she was very involved with the construction of the Valley Falls Library from about 1906-1913.  It is widely acknowledged that without Blanche, there would have been no club.  A further measure of her importance is that the four volumes of “A History of Woman’s Suffrage” by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Matilda Josyln Gage, were presented by Susan B. Anthony to Blanche in 1905, inscribed to her by name. Susan intended the books to be used as sources of information and education at meetings of the Political Equality Club.

book

Blanche wrote this poem, first read at the 15th anniversary meeting of the club in May 1918, which is still included in the program booklet of the Woman’s Club:

 

Poem: “Our Voyage” by B. Clum

Listen my friends and you shall hear

Of a Suffrage Club we hold so dear.

It was on May 13, 1903

When we organized for Equality.

Many are here who remember that date,

When we sailed off in our ship of state.

Rev. Anna Shaw gave us the lead,

And Rev. R.A. Dearstyne bid us God speed.

Our sailing, my friends, was not all fair.

We met with obstacles everywhere.

The antis tried our ship to wreck,

But we cleverly swept them from the deck.

They followed us in every zone.

To tell us “Woman’s place is home.”

But this is past, I’m glad to relate,

And we’ll all make good in the Empire State.

We soon joined the Federation fleet,

Which made our journey more complete,

To be a part of this great crew,

Gave us courage and life anew.

For 15 years we weathered the blast,

13 charter members held fast.

15 youngsters, we’re proud to say

Came to cheer us on our way.

On November 6, 1917,

Our longed for pact was plainly seen.

We landed our ship “Democracy,”

In the land of the brave and the home of the free.

Our aim accomplished, we now change our name,

But to work for humanity just the same.

Ready to do our bit when duty calls,

Long live the “Woman’s Club”

Of Valley Falls and Vicinity.

 

Returning to Blanche’s biography, in February 1911, she and husband Frank Clum had an auction. In March, Blanche’s sister Lois and her husband Clarence Bassett, newlyweds, moved onto the farm. Blanche and Frank moved into the village of Valley Falls where he ran a garage. They may have moved closer to school for their growing boys; Frank may have been ready to quit farming; or perhaps the move was to put Blanche closer to the action. At the same time, the Clums joined Blanche’s sister Edith and her husband Frank Gifford in Orlando, Florida for the winters. The Giffords had a hotel there. I think that Blanche was increasingly unwell, but the newspapers are full of her activities with various organizations in Valley Falls. Once the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, she was active in war work as well.

Blanche died of heart disease in August 1919 at her sister Edith’s home. Her obituary called her “a woman of exceptional ability.” While she saw New York State adopt suffrage in 1917, sadly, she did not survive to see the passage of the national amendment in 1920.

 

 

Returning to the club itself, the idea of a Political Equality Club raises a number of questions for us today. Who were these women? What were their goals? Did their husbands support them? What did they do? What were their meetings like?

I have already spoken about the first two Presidents of the group. I found in general, that the founding members either lived near each other- on Masters Street in Schaghticoke, or in the village of Valley Falls; or were related to each other- sisters, sisters-in-law, cousins; or shared membership in the Methodist Church, in Valley Falls or Melrose. A number were among the early members of the lineage organization, the Daughters of the American Revolution. Most were married, but a few were spinsters. A few were exceptionally wealthy, like Lucy Thompson, most were comfortable, like the Stovers, a few were wives of laborers.   I have written brief biographies of all of the charter members and those listed in the first surviving program, from 1906-1907. It is a bit difficult to find out lots of information about some of the women, as they are hidden by their married names.

So what were their goals?  Lucy Allen of Easton said, “Let no man or woman be mistaken as to what this movement for woman’s suffrage really means. We, none of us, want to turn the world upside down or to convert women into men.  We desire women, on the contrary, to continue womanly in the highest and best sense…and to bring their true women’s influence on behalf of whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report, to bear upon the conduct of public affairs.” She added, “the elevating of women means the elevating of humanity.” “The majority of us farmers’ wives here in Easton and our husbands are perfect…our tendency is to forget that Easton isn’t the whole world, and there are other women not as we are.” “We want to get rid of this fallacy that marriage is a state of being supported…he begins and she completes the making of their joint wealth. Their dependence is mutual. “I would think that women in Easton and Valley Falls would have the same thoughts.

The Troy “Times” reported extensively on the Second Annual Meeting of the Rensselaer County Political Equality Club, which was held at the Melrose Methodist Church in May 1907. Apparently there were attendees from just Troy and Valley Falls/Schaghticoke. The speaker was Reverend Anna Howard Shaw, M.D. Having Rev. Shaw speak was like having Governor Cuomo come to a Pittstown Town Board meeting. She was the President of the National Woman’s Suffrage Association. This was certainly a measure of the importance of the group in the area. In her remarks, Rev. Shaw stated, “When we women are going out into the world with the men, what we want is justice, and we will let the hand-kissing chivalry go.”

Mrs. Anna Snyder of Melrose delivered the address of welcome at this event. She declared “it would not be long before a Declaration of Independence would be adopted which would include women as well as men.” She thought it unfair for women to be compelled to pay taxes and not be given the privilege of voting.  “Under the present laws, women have no more rights than children.”

The archive of the Political Equality Club, located in the Valley Falls Library, includes notes on the resolutions adopted by that convention:

  • Women workers need the ballot to work for better working conditions for themselves and their children, also working
  • There should be equal pay for equal work for women and men
  • Taxation without representation is tyranny
  • Congress needs to pass an amendment to the constitution enfranchising women

The following October, there was a convention of the Political Equality Clubs of Rensselaer and Washington Counties at the Methodist Church in Valley Falls. Lucy Allen, founder of the Easton club, stated, “the old saying, ‘Man works from sun to sun, but woman’s work is never done’, is literally true. The farmer pays his man $30 a month …How is it with the woman this farmer employs, if he employs any? He pays her $15 per month, just half…..You all remember the picture of an ideally happy home circulated by our opponents (the anti-suffragists) It showed the father and husband reclining at ease in a chair with feet elevated, reading the evening paper; the older children clustered around the piano, enjoying their music, while the mother and wife jogged the cradle wherein lay the sleeping baby with her foot, while her hands were busy darning her husband’s socks. This picture was intended to illustrate the general beatified state that ensued when woman stayed at home where she belonged…but our opponents…showed plainly the subjection of woman in the household.“ Of course her point was that the woman was still doing two jobs at once while everyone else relaxed.

And Mary Holliday, of the Valley Falls club, described the progress that women had made over the past half century, gaining entrance to colleges and some professions, and gaining more rights as married women among other items. She summed up what seemed to be the goals of the club: to get the vote and to defend other women less fortunate than themselves, with a goal for general equality of men and women in education and pay.  I have to say that the speeches sound very modern to my ears.

And what about the husbands? Most of the women in the club were married, some with children. A few were very wealthy and had servants. Some of the others had a hired girl. So there would be some access to child care. But most were middle class. The ones with children would need support to attend meetings during the day. And all would need to have their membership in the club supported by their spouses to be happy in their marriages. The fact that they did attend ..and stay married…is proof of that to me. But I also found reports in the newspaper of some evening meetings of the group where attendance was reported at fifty or sixty, many more than the usual numbers of members. One of the reports, from October 1914, reported on an evening “banquet” at the home of Mr and Mrs George Lohnes.  Members and their husbands were entertained, a total of sixty people.  This was not just an evening of entertainment.  There was a full meeting of the club, with a report on the recent convention of women’s clubs, readings on suffrage, an outline of the work for suffrage in the state, plus singing by several women and “parlor pastimes.”  Mary Lohnes and Mrs. Schuyler Hayner prepared the food. I want to know what they prepared and how they managed to seat sixty people for dinner.

The club’s program for 1912-13 included a “social” at the new Valley Falls library in December with “gentlemen invited.” One particularly interesting- sounding event was a “birthday evening.” There were tables for each month of the year, and members and their husbands were seated at the table decorated for the month of their birthdays. What a great way to socialize with different people than usual! This was so popular that it was repeated. I think that a birthday club grew out of it, which existed just to celebrate the birthdays of the members.  But my point is that these events show that the husbands were clearly partners in the effort for suffrage.

So what did the women do? Well, they met at least monthly on the second Wednesday of each month, sometimes at members’ homes, sometimes at the Valley Falls Methodist Church. They elected officers yearly, with a lot of change from year to year. The “order of exercises” at club meetings given in the programs was singing, prayer, reports of committees, and business. They often had a roll call of members, which was answered in a different way each month: from giving a quote of a famous person, like Susan B. Anthony, or a poet, like Longfellow, to reporting a current event or suffrage fact. This was followed by suffrage news, a bit of entertainment, for example a recitation of a poem or a song or piano solo, and some sort of speech, designed to educate the members on something- for example, “Historic Lake George,” “How Christmas is Celebrated in Different Countries,” “Prison Reform,” etc.

It’s hard to tell what actual suffrage work they did from the programs. We know from newspaper articles that some members attended county, state, and national conventions of women’s clubs and suffrage organizations, or even a convention for peace- this just before the U.S. entrance into World War I. Programs sometimes included reports on legislative work, which implies that members might have been lobbying in Albany.  The Easton club members subscribed to the national suffrage newspaper, made items for a National Suffrage Bazaar in New York City, and briefly opened a little shop in Easton which sold ice cream and items the women had made- all to make money to donate to the national suffrage organization for its work. I imagine the Valley Falls women raised money in some of the same ways. Many of them were doing similar things for the Methodist Church, raising money for home and foreign missions, or working against overuse of alcohol as members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

In addition, only a year after its founding, the Political Equality Club voted to use some of the money it had in the bank to begin a library in Valley Falls. There had been some work towards a library for a couple of years, but the club was really the catalyst. In 1906, a small library was begun in Thompson’s Mill. Many members of the club participated in all of the following activities which resulted in the purchase of the lot by the community and the funding of the building by the Gaffney family. It was dedicated in 1915.

The Political Equality Club changed its name as soon as New York State adopted suffrage in 1917, to the Woman’s Club of Valley Falls and Vicinity. It had been associated with the State Federation of Woman’s Clubs since 1906 and the General Federation since 1926.  It became independent in 1996. With the fight for suffrage over, the club moved on to develop a scholarship fund in 1930, and a child welfare program in 1932.  It has been involved in fighting TB and working with public health, the Salvation Army, disaster relief, local churches, missionary work, camps, and the USO in the   World War II.

 

I am the current president of the Woman’s Club of Valley Falls and Vicinity. I can report that it still meets during the day on the second Wednesday of the month, though not every month. The program still features a prayer, a song- though it is always “God Bless America, plus the pledge of allegiance. We always pray for community members who need it. And we have a program designed to educate us. We do not report on current politics, though we have had a number of local office holders speak to us. We do raise money for charity, focusing on the local food pantry, Military Mom in Action, and Ronald McDonald House, and give a small scholarship to a Hoosic Valley student. Our members are mostly married, mostly elderly-though any age woman would be welcome- and of varied backgrounds and experiences. There are still some relatives, some Methodists, and some women who are neighbors, but women live from Melrose to Easton to Johnsonville and Stillwater, a larger area than at the start.  It really is a remarkable survival.

 

 

Centennial of the U.S. Entry into World War I: the Schaghticoke response

WWI statue

the World War I memorial in the village of Schaghticoke. My husband John Kelly imitating it. 

Before beginning this story, I need to urge you to go to the New York State Museum in Albany and see the World War I exhibit there. There are great objects and the posters are incredible. The exhibit will be there through spring 2018.

War in Europe had raged between the Allies and the Axis since summer 1914. By spring 1917 there had been almost two years of fierce fighting in Europe, with thousands and thousands and thousands of soldiers slaughtered on both sides. Meanwhile, the U.S. had stayed neutral. President Woodrow Wilson had attempted unsuccessfully to broker peace. Public opinion in the U.S.was divided on our entry into the war. German immigrants were of course opposed to fighting their former country. Many Irish immigrants did not want to support Britain, which was also fighting the independence of Ireland. This was the height of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, and many women were in favor of peaceful solutions. There were many other pacifists in the country.  But many descendants of British immigrants, industrialists, and others supported US entry into the war on the side of Great Britain. Others were appalled at the atrocities committed by German troops against civilians in Belgium. Through 1915 a “Preparedness” movement developed in the US, with many figuring that we would enter the war on the side of the Allies eventually and should begin the buildup of our military.

hun

1917 found the Allied and Axis Armies entrenched facing each other across the Western Front, which stretched from Belgium in the north, south eastward through France. Who knows what would have happened next, but finally the U.S. declared war on German on April 6, 1917. The Troy “Times”, which would have been the most important local paper here in Schaghticoke reported the debate in the U.S. Congress fully, quoting the text of the war resolution. The immediate reasons for the declaration were German resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare- meaning they would attempt to sink any non-German ship, civilian or naval- and the Zimmerman telegram, in which German offered an alliance with Mexico if she would declare war on the U.S. Mexico would regain the territory lost in the Mexican-American War after their victory.  This almost surely would not have happened, but it was an example of German intentions world-wide that startled the U.S., to say the least.

 

But the declaration of war didn’t mean that U.S. troops would get to Europe any time soon. The Allies wanted U.S. troops to be integrated with the French and British armies, but U.S. commanders resisted that strongly. They had seen the seemingly callous sacrifice of thousands and thousands of young men in meaningless battles and wanted U.S. commanders to have control over their own troops. In addition, in 1915 the U.S. Army only numbered 100,000, the National Guard only 112,000. It would take time to build a military big enough for the war.  14,000 troops reached France by the end of June, 1917, but this was a token force.

Certainly there had been planning in case the US entered the war, but the day after it happened, action began. Locally, the 2nd Regiment National Guard, based in Troy, was called to duty to protect railroad stations, bridges, and canals, which could be sensitive to sabotage. Schools held exercises where children could demonstrate their patriotism and loyalty. The newspaper gave instructions on how to hang the American flag properly. And a preemptive measure called for all German subjects in the country who obeyed U.S. laws to be protected from harassment. There was a Naval preparedness parade to encourage enlistment in that service. People were urged to transform vacant lots into gardens. Very locally, April 13, the Melrose Grange announced a meeting for the following week, with patriotic speeches and music. As many people as possible were requested to carry flags and express loyalty to the country “in every way.”

On April 5, the U.S. Army and Navy requested 3,400,000 men. More realistically the government sought to raise an Army of one million in one year and two million in two years. Part of this would be through filling the National Guard to war strength of more than 500,000 by instituting the draft, unless there were enough volunteers. And part of this would be by drafting men to the regular Army and Navy. The initial goal was to assemble the first 500,000 draftees for five months of training by August or September, then 500,000 more by April 1918.

Front and back of the draft card of Sophus Djernes of Pittstown.

On May 26, the Troy “Times” announced there would be a mandatory registration for the draft of all men aged 21-30   throughout the entire country on June 5. All men of those ages must register that day, unless they were already in the military. Though this was boosted as a PUBLIC DUTY, it was pointed out that those who did not register would be subject to imprisonment. Those absent from home could register where they were and have the registrar mail the card home. The registrars themselves were volunteers. I looked at two in Schaghticoke. John Butler was a 24-year-old cigar maker and auto mechanic. He was a draftee himself, but died of pneumonia on the ship to France. Elbridge Snyder was in his forties, a food merchant in town.  And the National League for Women’s Service supplied 250 volunteers locally to tabulate the results, set to work from June 10 to September 10. (In the event, the task was done much more quickly.) On June 4, the paper printed a sample card, and on June 6 it reported that the draft had gone smoothly.

Incredibly, more than 10,000,000 men registered for the draft on June 5, 1917 across the nation. This was a huge task organized and completed incredibly quickly it seems to me. Of these 1 million would be drafted, with a goal of 687,000 passing the minimal physical and not being declared exempt. The Troy “Times” reported that “several Spaniards in Pittstown refused to register at first,” but soon complied. Who were they??? Meanwhile, there were many voluntary enlistments in the 2nd Infantry, the local National Guard regiment at Troy. 3,455 men registered in Rensselaer County outside Troy. The pre-draft estimate had been about 1,000 more than that.

The June 6 Troy “Times” reported that “registrars came to the County Clerk’s Office last night to file their returns.” The Sheriff provided coffee, sandwiches and salads and cigars. Schaghticoke district 1 had 77 men, District 2, 43, District 3, 54, and District 4, 48, for a total of 227. Pittstown district 1 registered 53 men, district 2, 43, district 3, 27, district 4, 34, and district 5, 15, for a total of 172 men. Half the men who enrolled claimed exemptions. In general men who were married were granted exemptions, but many others were not. I have come across a number of local farmers who asked for agricultural exemptions, which were not granted. Other sons asked for exemptions as the support of aged parents. Those do not seem to have been granted either. Of course some men were rejected for disability of some sort.

The June 7 Troy “Times” announced a further state military census, of all men 16-51, to be taken on June 11. I write about this because the census takers, more volunteers, were women from an amazing list of organizations: the Home Defense League, the NYS Women’s Suffrage Party, the Salvation Army, the National League for Women’s Services, the Troy Auxiliary of the NYS Association Opposed to Suffrage, the Soldiers’ Welfare League, the Ladies’ Catholic Benevolent Association, the Philip Schuyler Chapter of the DAR, the Women’s University Club, and American Society of Civil engineers, and school teachers. Suffrage for women passed in November 1917, hence the presence of the pro- and anti-suffrage groups in the list.

By June 23, the newspaper reported that everyone who had registered for the draft had been assigned a number. The numbers would be drawn in Washington, D.C., and would be telegraphed to the home districts, with men next on the list stepping up in the case of exemptions. The exemptions were to be left up to each draft board. It seems to me that there wasn’t adequate thought behind how this would all work. The draft districts were of vastly different sizes across the country, up to over 10,000 men, so numbers couldn’t be called fairly easily. Not all districts had a number 1000, for example. Finally a very complicated two tier system was assigned, which I don’t fully understand. It took two columns of newsprint to explain.  Numbers were drawn in Washington on July 19 in a marathon 16 hours.

July 28 the first lists of men to be drafted were published. Our district, Rensselaer County outside of Troy, had a quota of 103 men. 206 men were to be called to fill that. Some of the first men from the area to be called were Sophus Djernes, William Engel, Robert Couser, William Roberts, and Charles Madigan of Valley Falls; Earl Cooley of Melrose, and Levi Warren and Walter Ralston of Schaghticoke. Of these men, only Sophus Djernes, Charles Madigan, and Walter Ralston actually served. Earl Cooley failed the physical.  William Roberts had a wife and two children. Charles Madigan claimed a farm exemption but was denied, so he, Sophus, and Walter reported to Hoosick Falls on September 7 and left the next morning by train for Camp Devens, at Ayer, Massachusetts, which had become a military training camp. Wisely, I think, the military started out small, calling only 5% of the quota that first time. I’m sure this let the system get established, and allowed the training camp staff to get used to the process.

Meanwhile, the second contingent of men were being interviewed at their exemption boards day by day. They numbered 40% of the total number to be called in this first draft. This larger group left September 22 from Hoosick Falls, this time with a send-off. A crowd of 3000 gathered at the municipal building in Hoosick Falls, led by the Old Guard Fifes and Drums and other bands. The new recruits paraded to the train station with Provisional Company A of the National Guard in Troy, the members of the Exemption Board, the GAR Post (Civil War veterans), the fire departments, and the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

In mid- August, the “Times Union” began publishing a “Home Reading course for Citizen Soldiers,” developed by the War Department. There were thirty lessons, one a day, designed to prepare men to be soldiers- and perhaps to let their families understand what would be expected of them as well.

The third contingent of men, 100,000 nationally, began to report to camps on October 3. Again there was a big send-off in Hoosick Falls on October 6. Ray Sherman of Melrose was one of two men in charge of the group of recruits, who paraded to the train station watched by 4,000 spectators and accompanied by the GAR, fire companies, the St. George Lutheran Society, the Hibernians, and hundreds of citizens, amid the din of many auto horns, whistles, and bells. The local men were Hamlin Coleman, Charles Rubeck, Francis O’Connor, and James VanDetto of Schaghticoke, and Arthur Turner of Melrose. Arthur was killed in battle the following July.

James Van Detto pic

James VanDetto

Meanwhile, on July 15, 1917, the National Guard was called into federal service, to report August 5. First, the soldiers reported to their armories, then went on to be trained at various forts. Our local National Guard unit, the 2nd Infantry, had already been active as stated above, guarding sensitive locations like bridges and reservoirs. And in 1916 some of the men had been deployed in the Punitive Expedition against Pancho Villa on the Mexican border, so they had a bit of experience. The 2nd, which was renamed the 105th US Infantry, was to be sent to Camp Wadsworth, South Carolina, as part of the 27th Infantry Division.

In what may have been the first local fatality of the war, James B. Davis, a new recruit in the 2nd Infantry- soon to be the 105th– was killed in a cannon firing on the lawn of the Valley Falls House for the 4th of July. Though the cannon was not loaded with a cannon ball,  the powder keg was left in the path of the cannon, and when he jumped to move it, the cannon fired, the wadding hit him and the keg, and it exploded. This story appeared in the July 5 Troy “Times.” I repeat it, but cannot find a trace of a man by that name in the records. I don’t doubt the event occurred, I just think that the paper got the name wrong. Certainly the second local fatality was Paul Speanburgh of Pittstown, one of three brothers who served in the Army. Paul also enlisted in the 2nd in June. On July 11, he was guarding a bridge in Ballston Spa when he was hit by a passing freight train in the middle of the night and killed. He left a young widow, Grace Lohnes Speanburgh, who lived on until 1979. Paul is buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Schaghticoke.

As August 1917 wore on and the 2nd Infantry prepared to leave for South Carolina, the city of Troy finally organized a parade to say good-bye. By this time the men had reported to a temporary camp in Schenectady, which had planned its own parade. The parade in Troy took place August 26, just two days before the men left for South Carolina.  It started at Union Station, where the men got off the train from Schenectady, and took a very back- and- forth track from there to the main school. Residences and businesses were urged to fly the flag and other patriotic decorations. Families with men serving displayed service flags like we use today, with one star for each man in the family serving. Just the soldiers, about 600, marched in the parade. At the school, the Women’s Auxiliary of the Soldiers Welfare League and the National League of Women’s Service served sandwiches, cake, ice cream, soda and cigarettes. Some of the men went home for the night, others stayed on to attend a baseball game and dance in State Street. Officers were treated to a vaudeville show at Proctor’s. The next day the men returned to Schenectady and departed for the south.

On August 28 the regiment reached a temporary base near Marble Hill in Brooklyn, passing the train ride with a “continuous round of pleasure: singing, reciting, playing jokes,” with food, but, the only problem, no water supplied. On August 30 they participated in a grand parade of the whole 27th Division in New York City. It took them six hours to march from 110th Street to Washington Square. “5th Avenue was packed with humanity” cheering them. All of this was reported in the Troy “Times.”

27thDivParade1

27th Division Parade in New York City

The 2nd/105th went on to camp in South Carolina. The men began strenuous training: trench practice; grenade, bayonet, musketry, sniping, and automatic arms schools; use of machine guns, and the Stokes mortar; gas defense and camouflage. Families could visit the men through the winter, and the men enjoyed the music of seven regimental bands. Popular songs were “Pack up your troubles”, “the Long, long trail,” and “Joan of Arc.” Rather than singing while they marched, the men whistled as a group. A correspondent for the Troy “Times” went to South Carolina and gave frequent reports on the men to the folks back home. For example, in October he reported that each tent in camp had a small stove, ready for winter.

At the same time that the country was working to grow the Armed Forces rapidly, it was also acting to pay for the war. One way was through the Liberty Loan program, the first time the U.S. government issued bonds.  The first Liberty Loan Act, enacted April 24, 1917, just a couple of weeks after war was declared, issued $5 billion in bonds at 3.5% interest. These bonds were sold to citizens. Apparently the loan was not subscribed to with enthusiasm by the country, but you wouldn’t know that from the articles in the Troy “Times,” which reported that bonds were selling well. There was a Liberty Loan rally at the Troy Music Hall on June 9, with patriotic speeches and songs.

The Troy “Times” of October 1 announced that Congress had passed a new war tax on incomes and corporations of about 2%. Postal rates were to go up and further fees were expected. A second Liberty Loan campaign was announced at the same time, with the local amount to be raised pegged at over $7 million. Bonds yielded 4% interest and were payable in 25 years.  This time the government realized that a vigorous ad campaign would be needed to fulfill the target. The newspaper was full of ads of all sizes for the loans, and government representatives came out to organize all the businesses and organizations to go out and urge citizens to buy the bonds. Each type of business had a committee to organize sales, which were made at all the local banks. I have been told that Boy Scouts sold Liberty Loans, but I have not found evidence in the newspaper of that. Bond could be bought in very small denominations, making their purchase possible for nearly everyone.

4 minute men

The federal government had a “Committee on Public Information,” whose purpose was to educate the public on important issues of the day- patriotism, the war. We might call it a propaganda arm of the government. It was certainly one more way to inform more people, and out loud rather than in the newspaper.  Part of this was a group of volunteers organized all over the country, “the 4-minute men,” who delivered the desired content in short talks. In Rensselaer County, a group of “4-minute men”, local businessmen volunteers, were trained to go to organizations, meetings, theatrical performances, churches, etc. to give a four-minute talk on the need to buy bonds. The Troy “Times” reported their presence in theaters in Troy, and at regular meetings of organizations throughout the county.

liberty bonds 2

Bonds were even sold to the troops in training camps.  Slogans included “Every Liberty Bond spikes a German gun,” “If you cannot go across, come across,” and “Liberty Bonds + Liberty Bullet = Victory.” One full page ad showed a caricature of Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany in a spiked helmet with a skull and cross bones on the front. On October 14, the newspaper reported that the Liberty Loan was oversubscribed by more than 50% in Rensselaer County.  Valley Falls residents bought $50,000 worth of bonds.

Another new activity for the country was to support the men of the rapidly growing armed forces. There were plenty of people who remembered the unmet needs of the Civil War soldiers for at least the first year of that war, and the organizations which had grown up only gradually to help them with nursing and personal items. Until that happened, U.S. soldiers had suffered horribly. In this new war, almost immediately the main organization which stepped up was the Red Cross, which had been small up until this time. By the start of June 1917, the Troy “Times” reported the Red Cross was raising money to help take care of soldiers, with a goal of $150,000 in Rensselaer County. This goal was exceeded in less than a month. An article on June 23 reported that an entertainment in Melrose had raised $45. The June 27 Troy “Times” listed all the contributors, most of whom gave $3-$5 each, a considerable sum, though Alexander Diver, the town undertaker, gave $25. The money was to be used in part for yarn and needles for knitted items for the troops, comfort kits for new recruits, and hospital supplies.

Besides raising money, the Red Cross sought to grow its membership.   Through August and September, the newspaper reported the plans of the Rensselaer County organization to fan out around the county and recruit.  Many of the members needed to be women, as a major Red Cross effort was to knit for the troops. I’m not saying men couldn’t knit, but most wouldn’t/didn’t.  The Rensselaer County quota was 5,000 sleeveless sweaters, mufflers, socks, helmets (to be worn under the metal helmets), and wristlets, to be sent to France as soon as possible.  Mrs. T. A. Bryson was the head of the Red Cross knitting unit formed in Schaghticoke. The Troy Soldiers Welfare Division of the Red Cross planned to make 700 knitted sets for the men of the 2nd NY (now the 105th US), including a sweater, scarf, helmet, wristlet, and fingerless mittens. They needed funds of $2000 for the materials, but had plenty of knitters. The Valley Falls Political Equality Club put on a number of card parties whose proceeds were to buy yarn to knit for the local boys in France and Camp Devens.

red cross knitting

By October, a group of Red Cross volunteers set off across the county to recruit members. The men were assigned to speak to any gathering of people, the women to make home visits. They were urged to “make plain what this country would face should Germany win the war,” and talk about the “hardships of the troops in the trenches,” pleading “that everything possible be done to alleviate their suffering.” George Patrick and E. Harold Cluett came out and spoke at the Schaghticoke Odd Fellows Hall one Sunday and the Honorable Frederick Filley and Duncan Kaye spoke at the Melrose Grange. (Troy “Times” Oct 5)

Yet another issue for the country as it mobilized for war was food- its price and availability. From the start, the U.S. Government and its Food Administration, headed by Herbert Hoover, the future President, were concerned about proper rations for troops, food for both civilians and allied soldiers in Europe, and both proper food for people at home and its availability at appropriate prices. Price gouging was nothing new. In August 1917 Congress enacted the Food Control Act to address all of the preceding. During the summer, food prices in the country had increased by 100%.    Measures were taken for the U.S. government to buy the whole upcoming wheat crop of the country and to stabilize the price of sugar. Domino Sugar ads suggested using sugar sparingly- not hoarding but not overusing. The wheat crop in 1917 was very small, aggravating the problems of supply and cost. The Food Administration began by suggesting, then mandating substitution of things like corn meal in recipes demanding wheat to make the crop go farther. The emphasis was on volunteer adoption of regulations by producers, wholesalers, and retailers, but as the year went on, more and more of the preceding were licensed and controlled by the Food Administration. Prices were at first suggested- with “reasonable” profit allowed, then set. Canned goods, so important to the troops, were in especially short supply.

wwi food admin

The Food Administration also addressed consumers. The Troy “Times” printed a series of “Menus that Help the Food Administration”.  They were day-by-day menus for a week that would both help local citizens deal with the “high cost of living” and “increase the supply of staples for our allies and famine stricken countries of Europe.” The menus included the awful-sounding dried bean and peanut butter loaf- using less meat- and corn chowder- which sounds good. Posters urged people to “Win the War by Service in the Home,” and “To Save Democracy: eat less wheat.” Advice was given on eating less wheat, meat, fats, and sugar, using perishables efficiently and canning and drying them, and preaching “the Gospel of the Clean Plate Club.”

Of course war could be profitable for many. The US Government still allowed food producers and processors to make a “reasonable” profit. The newspaper reported that Troy and Cohoes companies were making tents, camp stoves, underwear, hosiery, shirts, and engines for the Army. The Watervliet Arsenal planned to add 3,000 new mechanics to their work force from October 1917 to March 1918, making large caliber field artillery, and needed housing for them and their families. Building that housing would also provide local employment, of course. And of course the workers would spend their paychecks locally.

In Schaghticoke, the effects were mixed. The powder mill, in business since 1813, had been a subsidiary of Hercules Powder since 1912.   Hercules was a huge corporation. In an Army publication a history of explosives used in the war, the author explained that the company made two kinds of black powder: B and rifle. The latter, which was made in Schaghticoke, was more prone to explosion. Hercules claimed this was just a superstition, but when the need for black rifle powder for the Army outstripped the capabilities of the Schaghticoke plant, men at their other sites were scared of changing. A few men from Schaghticoke were imported to the plants in California, Pennsylvania, and Ohio to make the changes needed in the process and teach the workers how to make the powder as safely as possible. Clearly, Schaghticoke was working at full capacity.

On the other hand, another industry essential to the local economy, the Cable Flax Mill, in the village of Schaghticoke, essentially came to a halt.  Its supply of flax came primarily from Belgium, and Germany seized the shipments. It had already had difficulties making the change to using electricity rather than water as a power source- which it had had to do following the construction of the G.E. power dam in 1907, and the lack of flax sounded its death knell.

So in six months, the U.S. Government had declared war, mobilized an Army and outfitted it, and gotten the country’s food supply under control, while its citizens had volunteered and been drafted to fight, organized to help the new soldiers, and adjusted to the new reality of limited food. I will leave the story here, and take up the actual fighting of the U.S. troops in France later.

 

 

 

Schaghticoke in 1850

 

I have now been writing about the history of the town of Schaghticoke in these pages for six years. I began with the Native Americans in town and have continued chronologically since.  I took some time out to chronicle Schaghticoke’s contribution to the Civil War, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of that conflict, and to advise on searching one’s family tree.  So I have reached 1850. I have to confess that for the first time I feel that the subject is almost impossible for me to get my arms around. As I just wrote a lot about the town in 1840, you may wonder how this can be. First, there is an explosion of information available to researchers as of 1850, beginning just with the U.S. census, but extending to the local newspapers, church and town records.  The archive at the Rensselaer County Historical Society contains enough records of local mills for a fat book. Second, there was a huge influx of immigrants to town. Third, there was a huge increase in industrialization with a corresponding increase in associated businesses- both factories and retail establishments. Fourth, the railroad came to town, producing a quantum increase in the ability of people to easily travel distances from home and products to travel to markets. In the past I have only published columns when I feel I have done all the research I could reasonably do and have fully covered the topic. I have to accept that what I will publish about Schaghticoke in 1850 will be subject to revision as I get to do more research. So let’s begin this adventure together!1850 census bit

The above is a bit of the 1850 census. John Ralston was a “f”, farmer, born in NY. His worker Patrick, also a farmer, was born in Ireland. One gets used to the handwriting after a while. 

The 1850 census is the pot of gold for genealogy researchers. It is the first Federal Census to list all of the members of a household by name. It also gives the occupation of at least the head of household, and lists where each person in the family was born, by state or country.  Finally researchers can know for sure who was in what family when, and when they emigrated from Ireland, for example- well, not for sure, but for pretty sure. Census takers were human beings, of course, and certainly made errors. They generally went up and down the roads, house by house, recording names and ages of occupants, but if someone weren’t home, did they go back another time? Or did they ask the neighbor, who might not really know someone’s exact age or real name, just knowing Mary as Minnie, or George Henry as Hank, or whatever? Or might not know if both parents were born in Ireland or just one. So we have more information than before, but we have to accept that there could be errors.

As I just wrote extensively about the town of Schaghticoke as seen in the 1840 census, I will try not to be repetitious. I will begin with the immigrants as shown by the 1850 census.  The 1840 census didn’t record who was a native and who was a non-native of the U.S. But let me state first that the population of the town was 3,290. This was actually about 100 less than in 1840, I have no idea why. I know that at the time people were moving west. That could be a reason. Remember that the town was still smaller than now, with the southern border of the town still the Deep Kill in Grant Hollow. There were just 41 blacks in town, just 1% of the population, a decrease from 76 in 1840.  Just for comparison sake, Pittstown had about the same number of residents as Schaghticoke.

So, immigration. Recently, Paul Loatman, historian of Mechanicville, wrote that as of 1850 his city had very few Irish immigrants. I don’t know why, but Schaghticoke had quite a few. Out of a population of 3,290, there were 435 people born in Ireland, or almost 11% of the population. Schaghticoke also had 28 residents born in England, 40 born in Germany, eight born in Scotland, three born on the Isle of Man, which is part of Great Britain, and three born in Canada.

As is well known, many, many people left Ireland in the 1840’s due to the potato famine. Certainly, while some Irish came to town earlier- enough to warrant founding a Catholic Church in 1841- many more came as a result of the famine. What did the Irish do when they got here?  In the 1850 census, twenty-three Irish were listed as both heads of their households and farmers- so they either owned or rented farms. Forty-seven were farmers, but working for someone else. Later censuses would call these men “farm laborers.”  This makes sense, as it would have been difficult for a man to have the money to buy or even rent a farm soon after arriving in the U.S. Fifty-three Irishman were “laborers.” As used in this census, I feel it means working as something other than a farm laborer, so probably in a mill of some sort, or perhaps as road, construction, or other jobs which did not require much training. Some mill jobs were more specialized, and I will talk about them later. And Irish did lots of other jobs: three wagon makers, six blacksmiths, three bartenders, three grocers, one shoemaker, two gun powder makers, one dentist, three tailors, one priest, and one butcher, among others.

In comparison, the 1850 census showed that 223 American-born men were heads of households and farmers, and 131 were farmers working for someone else- some were sons of farmers, others live-in laborers. Just 42 American-born men were listed as “laborers”- probably mill workers. So even though Irishmen made up just 11% of the population, there were more Irish-born than American-born mill workers. This is certainly an indication that some immigrants came to town to work in the many textile mills. I am sure that there were women and children in all kinds of families who were mill workers, but this census just did not list occupations of women and children, who knows why not.

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spinning frame at Lowell

The census also listed a number of other occupations. One of the basic assumptions I make about the time is that people didn’t commute far to work. This was just pre-railroad so local travel was by foot, horse, or horse and wagon on not-very-good roads. So if a man was listed as a barber, he was a barber here in Schaghticoke.   Quite a few of the non-farm occupations were jobs within textile mills located in  the gorge of the Hoosic River: five flax dryers, nine spinners (including one woman), four carders, two weavers, one cloth baler, and one flannel dryer. Factory owners often provided housing for their workers.

There were also fifteen men described as  manufacturers- I am assuming they were owners or at least supervisors of mills; also 17 mechanics and four machinists. While there were no cars- so mechanic would have a different meaning than today- there were plenty of machines in mills. I think both mechanics and machinists would have worked to maintain the machinery of factories and mills. There were also two millwrights and four millers. I don’t think there would be any difference between those- and I think all would have run grist or saw mills, rather than textile mills.

Of course Schaghticoke had one unique mill: the gunpowder mill. Nine men were listed as powder makers. As an adjunct to the powder mill, three men were coopers, who would have made the powder barrels. There were also four tinsmiths, who could have made gun powder and many other types of containers and other items both for industrial and domestic use.  And there were six moulders- this is a somewhat surprising job description to me. These would be men who cast iron. I have only seen one hint of such an industry in town.  The December 25, 1851 the Troy “Times” reported, “On Wednesday evening, the foundry of J. Cunningham in Schaghticoke was consumed (burned), together with a large number of valuable patterns and other property. A barn belonging to Chas. Baker was also damaged considerably.” Interestingly, John Cunningham was listed as a carpenter in the 1850 census. Presumably the patterns would have been for items cast from iron. Hmm.

Turning to the professional class, the three lawyers listed in the 1850 census were Thomas Ripley, Henry Wales, and Charles Wilbur. Herman Knickerbocker, now 73, was also a lawyer, but this census listed him as a farmer, and I’m sure he was pretty much retired. I have written before about Thomas Ripley, who only lived in town for about fifteen years. During that time he was a prominent Whig politician, and was nominated to serve out the term of a deceased U.S. Congressman in 1846-1847. In 1856, he and his family moved to Michigan.

thomas ripley

Thomas Ripley

Henry Northrup Wales (1807-1859 and Charles Joy Wilbur (1818-1861) were brothers-in-law. I believe that Henry’s wife Ruhana and Charles were siblings, so the men were brothers-in-law. Both were pillars of the Democratic Republican party in the town and country from about 1845 to their deaths. Ruhana Wales and Charles Wilber and his wife Cordelia were members of the Presbyterian Church. Ruhana and Charles shared the dubious distinction of being suspended as members in the 1840’s. Suspension was usually for breaking a commandment or too much drinking, dancing, or other wild behavior.

Charles and Henry both garnered political appointments in addition to their work as lawyers. Beginning with Henry, he had been in town since at least 1835. He served as town clerk in 1836, and postmaster in 1839 and 1854, and as clerk of the New York State Assembly in 1843- political appointments. The Troy “Northern Budget” lists him as one of the local Democratic Republican Committeemen from about 1840-1847, and at least once he was chosen to represent the county at the statewide convention. He left his wife and Ruhanah, and five living children when he died in 1859. I would assume his death was sudden as he died intestate. His obituary in the Troy “Daily Whig” for October 17 listed him as a “prominent member of the Rensselaer County bar.” He is buried in Elmwood Cemetery, though he must have been moved there as it did not open until 1863. In 1860 his wife and children moved to Indiana.

I believe that the other attorney, Charles Joy Wilber, was born in Schaghticoke to Samuel and Amy Wilber, though I don’t have proof of that. His very name indicates his nativity as Charles Joy was a prominent early mill owner in town. Charles used his political connections to gain the post of town Justice of the Peace in 1847, 1851, and 1855. He ran for County Judge in 1850 and 1851, but was not elected. He was also Clerk of the County Board of Supervisors in the 1850’s.  Like Henry, Charles is mentioned often in newspaper articles about the Democratic Republicans- sometimes as a county representative, but more often in a negative way by the local Whig and Republican newspapers. The Troy “Whig” in 1845 said he was “notoriously known to be a locofoco.” Locofocos were a branch of the Democratic-Republicans, more radical in viewpoint than the mainstream, supporters of Martin VanBuren and free trade.   An editorial in the Troy “Daily Times” on October 16, 1857 sarcastically called him “the remarkably virtuous Clerk of the notoriously corrupt Board of Supervisors,” who “has trained for some time as a leader of the Know Nothings in this County.” “Last fall…he denounced the “Catholic Irish” in terms of the bitterest severity,” stating “Americans MUST rule America.” Now, the editorial states, he has the nerve to be the Democratic leader of the local Irish. This was a time of extreme turmoil in US politics. The Know Nothings were a nativist party, particularly opposed to all of the Irish Catholic immigration at the time. And we think that politicians today are opportunistic and flip-floppers!

Like his brother-in-law, Charles died intestate in 1861, leaving wife Cordelia and five children, and is buried in Elmwood Cemetery, in the same plot as fellow attorney and brother-in-law Henry Wales. I could not find an obituary for him, but his wife Cordelia and at least two of his daughters later lived in Washington, D.C., where Cordelia died in 1894. So the three lawyers in town in 1850 were all gone by 1860, presumably creating an opportunity for some newcomers.

Returning to the 1850 census occupations, a number of men had jobs connected with transportation.  This would certainly be true today as well. There were 25 blacksmiths listed in Schaghticoke. I have read that in 1850 there needed to be a blacksmith shop about every five miles, to take care of horses- their shoes and shoeing and harnesses- and the various iron implements and pieces needed for farm tools, and to build hardware. And there were blacksmith shops located throughout the town, labeled on the 1856 town map.  The census listed just one horse dealer and one harness maker, but six wagon makers. There were ten teamsters- like our modern truck drivers- plus two stage proprietors and a stage driver.  There were two gate tenders- like modern toll takers- for the bridge across the Hoosic River in the village of Schaghticoke. This census was taken just before the railroad came to town. A sign of things to come, there were two railroad contractors in town.  One of them was Davis Crane, 45, who lived here with his wife and two children. By 1860 he was a ticket agent in Westchester County. The other was a single man, Thomas McMann, 36, born in Ireland. I don’t know where he went from here.

Farmers-Museum-Blacksmith

The Blacksmith’s shop at the Farmers’ Museum, Cooperstown

Let’s think a minute about transportation before and after this pivotal census. Before, as I have discussed in previous articles, horses and wagons and shoe leather on land, canals and steamboats on rivers were the rule.  There were stage coach lines connecting communities. According to Hayner’s “History of Rensselaer County,” the first stagecoach connected Troy and Schenectady in 1823, then in 1824 “there were stages three times a week to Boston via Lansingburgh, Pittstown, Hoosick Four Corners, Williamstown, Adams, and North Hampton.” Montreal could be reached in four days.

Just a short way from Schaghticoke, the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers opened most of the rest of the country and world to our residents. First there were commercial sailing ships which plied the Hudson, but after Robert Fulton launched his first steamboat in 1807, the speedier and more reliable boats began to improve commercial transportation between Albany and New York City.  A letter from a John F. Jenkins to Richard Hart in 1831 reported that “Mr Williams is on his way, either on the day boat or the night boat.” These would be regularly scheduled steamboats on the Hudson River.  According to John Morrison in his “History of American Steam Navigation”, there were regularly scheduled steamboats on the Hudson between Albany and New York City by 1825, making it in nine hours by 1836. One could travel by day or night. There were up to five or six departing boats in each direction per day.  Companies vied to go faster and for a longer season than their competitors. Generally, the season was from about the end of March to November. Amazingly, for the first years of service, the steamboats didn’t even land at every stop along the way. They towed a smaller boat, and departing passengers had to transfer from the big steamboat to the towed boat, then jump from the towed boat onto the dock. Crazy!  The steamboats burned anthracite coal, from 18-30 tons per trip from New York City to Albany.
Once the Champlain Canal opened in 1823, connecting Troy to Lake Champlain, and the Erie Canal in 1825, connecting Troy to Buffalo, vistas became even wider. Travel on the canals was slow, with barges pulled by mules, as every school child in the state knows from the song, but relatively comfortable, and great quantities of commodities could be transported safely. Passenger boats had sleeping accommodations.  Of course this travel ceased in the winter as well.

All of this changed with the next advance in transportation, the railroad. The early discussions of railroads in the Capital District occurred in 1831. Richard Hart, partner of Amos Briggs in all of the mills in Schaghticoke, was the President of the first railroad out of Troy, the Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad, completed in 1835. The Troy “Daily Whig” reported, “The passenger cars were exceedingly small… (24 feet long, 8 feet wide) They were entered by doors on the sides. Conductors collected fares from the outside, walking on footboards…”  “The outside of the cars is painted a beautiful fawn color, with painted-in picture panels…” The panels had reproductions of paintings by Leonardo DaVinci and others. The cars were made in Troy.  The time to get from Ballston to Waterford, 22 miles, was 54 minutes. The cars were pulled by horses over the Hudson River Bridge into Troy until 1853.

railroad

The Troy and Boston Railroad was incorporated in 1848. Amos Briggs of Schaghticoke was the President, certainly based on his partnership with wealthy Troy entrepreneur Richard Hart. I will talk a lot more about Briggs later in this article. The board of directors included the elite of Troy: John Wool, George Tibbits, D. Thomas Vail, and others. Planning for the railroad had been going on for some time. A letter from Amos Briggs to George Tibbits on December 3, 1844, continued what must have been an oral conversation about fences. Everyone was concerned about the possibility of livestock wandering onto tracks and getting killed. Briggs’ goal was to get a good fence cheaply, of course. He was concerned that while it might be cheaper to have the farmers affected build their own fences, the railroad could suffer if the fence was poor, animals were killed, and the railroad liable for the damages. He said, “if we maintain a lawful fence on both sides of our (rail) road we…lessen our chance for accidents. If they do occur from cattle, the hazard and responsibility (will be) upon the owner…” This would justify the railroad company building a higher-priced but better fence, preventing not only animal death but lawsuits.

troy and boston rr

ad from the Troy “Times” 1852

Actual construction of the railroad didn’t begin until June 6, 1850. Amos had purchased at least $10,000 of railroad stock himself. A contract dated May 8, 1850 in the Tibbits papers (Box 8) at the Rensselaer County Historical Society records the sale of 3 thousand tons of Railroad iron from Cardiff, Wales by a group of Trojans in exchange for railroad stock. The groundbreaking for the railroad was accompanied by a huge celebration, featuring a parade out of Troy to the area of Glen Avenue. General John Wool, local celebrity and hero of the Mexican War, broke the ground, the Mayor of Troy shoveled the earth into a wheelbarrow trundled by Amos Briggs. Amos then gave a speech. The Troy Citizens’ Corps, the Troy City Artillery, the Republican Guards, and the Lansingburgh Independent Artillery, all local militia regiments, were present, along with the City Band and the Arsenal Cornet Band. One hundred gathered for dinner afterwards at the Troy House. The first trains ran from Troy to Eagle Bridge, where they would meet the trains to Rutland, and on to Boston, on June 28, 1852. The cost had been about $200,000.  It was now possible to travel from Boston to the Mississippi River by train.

Amos Briggs felt that the railroad was essential to his business at Schaghticoke, but for reasons I haven’t discovered, perhaps due to costs, the station was first on the other side of the Hoosic River at East Schaghticoke, sort of near the junction of East Schaghticoke Road and Fisherman’s Lane. The railroad was handy to the Powder Mill- though powder wasn’t always transported by rail due to the danger- but not so handy to the mills in the gorge of the Hoosic River. Railroads quickly improved, and within a few years, transportation around the state was in many places as fast as it is by car today.

plank road

A plank road, with a mile marker to the right.

Meanwhile, roads were improving too. Amos Briggs was also the President of the Schaghticoke and Lansingburgh Turnpike Company, which maintained present Route 40 to Melrose, then followed the route of Melrose-Valley Falls Road on to the north. An article in the Troy “Times” on March 13, 1850 reported the incorporation of the Rensselaer and Washington Plank Road Company, which planned to construct a plank road from George Grant’s tavern in Schaghticoke, north along the Hudson through Easton and Greenwich to the Fort Miller Bridge, 22 miles. Abraham Knickerbocker was one of the directors. Grant’s tavern was at the junction of current Riley Road and River Road.  I’m a bit surprised that they planned a plank road, as other roads were being constructed at the same time of MacAdam- we would say macadam- roads. The inventor, John Mac Adam, of Scotland, proposed that good roads could be made of a layer of small stones placed over leveled dirt. The first roads were made this way in the late 1820’s. John Mitchell of Mechanicville led me to information about Plank Roads from a 19th century engineer George Geddes of Syracuse. He touted plank roads as lasting eight years, and costing “much less than the traditional macadam roads.”

This plank road company went bankrupt. Its assets- the materials for the road- were seized and sold at auction in February 1858. (NY Daily Tribune, Feb. 14, 1853) This included about 1,200,000 feet of hemlock planks, 3 inches thick and eight feet long, and stringers, three by six inches and twelve feet long, plus 66,000 feet of sawed pine timber, lime stone, building stone, cement, and 16,576 pounds of iron bolts. The planks were distributed along the line of the turnpike from the Hoosic River at Mechanicville up through Easton- at Wright’s Ferry.

Other roads were constructed in town, though they didn’t always match the roads we see today. The major difference is between Mechanicville and Route 40. The current intersection of routes 40 and 67 by the new Prospector’s Restaurant didn’t exist. The junction was at the north side of the Tomhannock Creek at what was then called Schaghticoke Hill. The road passed next to the Evans Grist Mill and the Schaghticoke Powder Mill and then went northwest, joining the current path of route 67 east of the current land fill. It continued across the Tomhannock just past the junction with Buttermilk Falls Road, headed for the Knickerbocker Mansion. There was a T intersection near where Knickerbocker Road turns off, with the road heading up the hill as it does now, on to Mechanicville. There was no bridge across the Hudson,  but a ferry, operated by the Hemstreets. There was a ford across the Hoosic River from Knickerbocker Road to the property of the Gifford’s Corn Maze on the 1856 map, and a bridge there on the 1877 map.

Likewise, the route to Stillwater was a bit different. West of Verbeck Avenue, the road followed the current Hemstreet Road for its full length, with the last stretch from the Ryan Farm to Stillwater being the same as today.  Near the village of Schaghticoke, the bridge across the Hoosick River went from the current Tommy’s Tavern across, meaning that there was a sharp turn where it joined current Route 40 not far from the southern end of the bridge today. There were several houses to the south of the Presbyterian Church before the new bridge was built in 1940. There was no Electric Lake, as the power dam was not built until 1907, so Fisherman’s Lane continued to the north with the current Brock farm house on the right, not crossing any water at all and leading into the new buildings of the Schaghticoke Powder Mill. There were streets accessing the mills running along both sides of the river.

In the Melrose part of town, Pinewoods Road went directly through to River Road, passing through what is now the Wertman farm, and dead-end Weatherwax Lane connected to modern Pinewoods Road near Dellwood Farm. Of course Avenue A did not exist in 1850, nor did Pine View Place or Rice Mt. Place, just to mention two much more modern developments. Skyline Drive connected with Mineral Springs Road. Of course, River Road extended all the way from Troy to Hemstreet Park. It was only about 1990 that the town gave up trying to keep the section between Irish Road and Calhoun Drive open due to continual landslides. Of course, none of the suburban development in Speigletown or Pleasantdale existed at all. They were actually the least populated areas of town.

It’s time to return to the 1850 census analysis. Though many town residents were farmers, who grew lots of their own food, others lived in the village of Schaghticoke with little room for gardens.  So this census lists ten butchers, one baker, and six grocers. Unlike the 18th century, people no longer wove their own cloth and increasingly didn’t make their own garments. Occupations which reflect this were nine shoemakers (which seems like a lot to me), one lacemaker, and six tailors. Later censuses listed women who were dressmakers and milliners (hat makers), and I’m betting there were a few women who did both of those occupations at home, but were just not listed as such in the census.

The town continued to grow and change. This is reflected in the building trades occupations.  The census listed 33 carpenters, which seems a huge number to me, plus six masons, two brick makers, and four painters.  There was also one sawyer, who perhaps would have worked in a saw mill, and two cabinetmakers, who would have made furniture. There was also one furnace man, who could have worked both for industry and for owners of newer types of heating for their homes.  Rounding this out, there were a barber and four physicians, plus one dentist and three lawyers. The town had a full range of stores and services available in 1850. Today we do have some retail businesses in town, but would have a hard time doing all necessary shopping only in the town.

Schaghticoke does have a few bars and restaurants today. In 1850, nine men were innkeepers- probably meaning there were nine inns. There were five bartenders, who worked at the inns. As the town was embroiled in the Temperance Movement at the time, this is proof that despite the high numbers “signing the pledge” to not drink alcohol, plenty of people were still imbibing. There was what was probably a combination inn/ hotel in the village of Schaghticoke, owned by John Downs, whose name was on a couple of other buildings on the 1856 map- probably also inns- in the village as well.

john downs hotel 1856

From the 1856 county map

A second hotel was in Melrose- at the intersection of Route 40 and Melrose-Valley Falls Road, where the gas station is now. That was called H. Aiken Hotel on the 1856 map.  Humphrey Aiken and his wife Caroline were both 42 years old, both born in Rensselaer County, and had been in town since about 1845. They had eight children as of 1855. Interestingly, Peter Grant, father of Isaac, who owned the factory in Grant Hollow, lived in the hotel. Mr Grant was a widower and this would be a way for him to be taken care of. The 1850 census listed Humphrey’s name as “Umphrey”!!  – an indication of pronunciation?

There was also the G. M. Tibbits Hotel in Schaghticoke Hill, near the junction of Hansen Road and Route 40. George Tibbits was one of the major landowners in the county, so while he probably owned this hotel, he didn’t live there. And another hotel was where modern Riley Road meets River Road. This was a little center of activity as the Albany Northern Railroad crossed the Hudson River there, so there was a train stop “Grant’s Flag Stop”, a few houses, and a hotel- no name on it on the 1856 map.

The 1856 County Map of the town of Schaghticoke has an inset of the village of Schaghticoke. I compared the names associated with buildings in the village with both the 1850 and 1855 censuses. In the village, I found carpenters John Cunningham, William Thompson, and Ira Viall; and blacksmiths Samuel Gould, William Kane, and Charley Clute. The dentist was James Hornibrook, just 36 years old in 1855. There was one mason, Job Corbin; one tailor, Albert Haviland; and one wheelwright/wagonmaker, Thomas Beecroft. There were one butcher, Cornelius King, and two grocers, William James Winslow and Harold Johnson. There were a number of merchants: Arthur Rodgers, Lorenzo and Charles Baker, John Buffett, and David Geddis. Unfortunately, what type of merchants they were is not indicated. I know that in later years, Lorenzo Baker sold clothing, while his brother Charles had a general store. John Downs’ name was on several locations where I know there were inns/taverns/hotels, interesting as by the 1855 census, he was listed as a farmer.

So where were the rest of the tradespeople who were carpenters, innkeepers, tailors, butchers, etc. and listed in the 1850 census? Some were certainly in the village- just the owners of buildings were indicated on the 1856 map. The majority of the buildings were owned by mill owners and entrepreneurs Amos Briggs and Richard Hart, and were rented to various merchants and tradespeople. Certainly some tradesmen lived in the hamlets of Schaghticoke Hill and Junction/Grant Hollow- now called Melrose, where there were mills. There were also a couple of mills on River Road south of Hemstreet Park where Allen Road meets it. Alexander Bryan had a grain cradle factory, there was a blacksmith shop, and a Lutheran Church. Though the Hemstreets ran the ferry across the Hudson where the bridge to Mechanicville is now, there are not any commercial buildings labeled there. And in the 1850 and 1855 censuses all of the Hemstreets were listed as farmers, not as ferry operators. This implies that ferry operation was considered a sideline.

Most of the retail establishments in town were in the village of Schaghticoke Point, but there was another store in what was then called Junction, the hamlet now called Grant’s Hollow. Isaac Grant and Co. made grain cradles, but also operated a store. I have the day book (the book which recorded every transaction day-by-day) for the business for the years around 1850. The grain cradle and retail businesses were intertwined. An inventory of the “property on hand” in 1853 showed everything from a gross of steel pens to 24 dozen shaving brushes, many, many dozen buttons, 8 pounds candy, many hair combs and brushes, 48 dozen gun caps (part of the ammunition for rifles), soap, 1 umbrella, silver polish, horse brushes, yards and yards of fabric, dozens of pairs of stockings, 286 pounds of brown sugar, 106 pounds of rice, 36 pounds of candles, boxes of castor oil and “dutch linament,” tea and spices, 25 pounds of soda crackers, coffee, plus many types of agricultural and carpentry tools and supplies, butter churns, many bird cages, lamp oil, and horse tack.  Of course they also had all the materials to manufacture grain cradles. So this was what today would be a combination of a factory, Wiley Brothers, and parts of Shop- and- Save. They did not sell prepared or pre-packaged foods, which mostly did not exist yet, or meat or dairy.  The inventory of 1853 also lists all the accounts on the books. This included 224 different individuals or companies- those who were buying either groceries or grain cradles from Grant plus companies from whom they purchased supplies for the factory and the store. This is quite a network of people!

general-store

General Store at Sturbridge Village, Mass.

But back to the 1850 census: There were about fifteen one-room schoolhouses in town in 1850, but there are only three teachers listed in the census. This may be either because the teachers were so short-term that the census, taken in summer, didn’t capture them, or that a few were young women, whose occupations weren’t indicated in the census. There were four ministers, leaving out the two Lutheran ministers in town. Again, that could have been due to the often itinerant nature of ministers- the census just missed them.

To me the most interesting listing in the census is for three men who were “Gone to California”- lured by the 1849 discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill. One of these men was Lewis Pickett. He had been in town since at least 1838, when his wife Phebe joined the Presbyterian Church. His occupation in the 1850 census was actually “gate tender,” which probably means he was the toll collector for the bridge over the Hoosic River on current route 40,  but that was crossed out and “Gone to California” written in. Who knows what happened to him in California?  But he was back in time for the 1855 census, when his occupation was “carpenter.” By 1860 he was a melodeon manufacturer. A melodeon was a reed organ, played like a piano and powered by foot pedals. The Picketts lived in the beautiful house that is three south of the Transfiguration North Catholic Church on Route 40, just south of the Hoosic River Bridge. In 1856, Lewis paid to have his house as an illustration on the county map. His brother-in-law Charles Corbin, a master mason, lived next door.

charlespickettpickett map

from the 1856 county map

By the 1870 census, Lewis Pickett and his son Charles were the proprietors of L. Pickett and Son, paper manufacturers. They were probably making paper of straw.  Their mill was on the site of an early saw mill in the gorge of the Hoosic River. This was a wishful name for the factory, as the son was not really a partner in the mill. Charles was the only child of Lewis and Phebe and went off to the Civil War as a Lieutenant in the local regiment, though he managed to get back home before doing any fighting. (He worked hard to get out of the Army.) By 1870 he was also the President of the new village of Harts Falls, (Schaghticoke) at the same time being chastised by the Presbyterian Church for his drunkenness and disobedience. When Lewis died of a heart attack in 1872, the Troy “Times” described that he was the head of an “extensive paper manufactory”, and known for his “prominence and character,” and that his son Charles was “confined to his house by sickness.” If Charles was ill, it was probably as a result of drink. His father did not even mention him in his will, with half of his $20,000 estate going to his widow, the other half to his nephew.

Another of the men listed as off to California in the census was John Bell, a 56-year-old immigrant from Scotland. He left behind a wife, Nancy and several children. Five years later he had not returned to his family, which was still in town.   Two grandsons of a married daughter had joined the household. After that I can’t find them in the census, so we can’t end this story. Did his family finally join him in California? Did they go somewhere else? I just don’t know.

goldpanning

panning for gold

The third man who went to California made a life in the West. George Galigan/Gallagher was born in Ireland in 1825. The entry for him and his wife Jane/Janet in Schaghticoke in 1850 read: George, 25, gone to California; Jane, 24; James J. 4, George, 3, and Mary, 8/12. In the 1852 census for California, George was listed alone as a tinsmith in San Francisco. By the 1860 U.S. census he was in Pierce County, Washington Territory. George, a tinsmith, had real estate worth $5800, and a personal estate of $1500, so definitely had had success. Jane had joined them, and they now had three younger children, Edward, 4; Charles, 2, and H.G., 2/12. I have been able to find that George fought in the Indian Wars in the Washington Territory soon after, and that he is buried in Pierce County, though there is no date on his tombstone. We have to imagine how they journeyed to California- I hope George came back to escort his family. The Transcontinental Railroad wasn’t completed until 1869, so they could either have traveled by wagon across the country or gone by ship to Central America, crossed that isthmus and then on by ship again to California. Either was an arduous journey for a young family.

At the start of this article I compiled some statistics of the different sorts of folks in town as enumerated in the 1850 census.  Now I’d like to go back and look at some of the compilations in more detail. I will begin with the blacks. There were only 41 in town in 1850.  I talked quite a lot about them in my articles about the 1840 census, so I will only talk about one man: Peter Wanton/Mather, who was almost unique among blacks in town. Most lived as single laborers in white families, but he lived in the village, a black man with a family and a steady job.

In the 1850 census, Peter was listed as a 34-year-old laborer, living with wife Delia or Diana, 28, and, oddly, Ann Eliza Brownell, a 16-year-old white girl. Peter was born in Rensselaer County in 1815, as was Diana, in 1814, though her age varies a lot in various censuses.  There was another Wanton in town: Matilda, 55, was a mulatto living in the inn of John Downs- presumably working as a servant of some sort there. Was she his mother?? I can’t find her again in the public record.

Due to lack of records, I can’t be sure about some of the facts about Peter’s life. What I am sure of is that he and his family lived in Schaghticoke for most of their lives, where he was a long-term employee of Amos Briggs. A record book of Amos Briggs and Co. for 1859-1861 indicates that he lived in mill housing. You will remember that Briggs was the major mill owner in Schaghticoke at the time.   While I think he mainly worked at Amos Briggs’ farm, up on Verbeck Avenue, he also worked at repairing the toll bridge, and at the Linen Factory. I think he mostly worked as a wagon driver. Briggs also paid him periodically for ashes, used in textile manufacture, which he may have collected around the village. The Briggs enterprises collapsed about 1865 and then he worked for Julius Butts, a store owner in the village.

amos briggs farm

from the 1856 county map

According to the 1865 New York state census, Peter and Diana had four children. Two died young:  Charles Eddy in 1858, aged 5 months, and Harriet in 1856, aged 1 year 4 months. As of the 1870 census, son George worked as a clerk in a store. Diana died that year.  By 1875 George had married a woman named Emily and they had a son named Charles, almost a year old. The little family lived with widower Peter, who now owned his home. The house was on the east side of Main Street in the village, three houses north of Fifth Street.   Sadly, George died the next year, aged only 25

George’s widow Emily stayed on with the Wantons after her husband died, working as a washer as of the 1880 census.  Peter, then 64, listed his occupation as sexton, as well as laborer.  He was sexton at the Presbyterian Church.  Though daughter Mary was still living at home, she had married. In that 1880 census, she was listed as Mary Newcomb, disabled, along with her husband Charles.   Peter died in 1888, aged 73.   Daughter Emily died in 1900, aged 43, and son Charles in 1901, aged 27, both of tuberculosis. All are buried in a family plot in Elmwood Cemetery.

The newspaper adds spice and mystery to Peter Wanton’s life. An article in the Troy “Whig” on May 27, 1845 reports a bit on the trial of Peter Wanton, alias Peter Mather, for assault with intent to commit rape. Unfortunately all it says is that Charles J. Wilber was indicted for contempt for failure to appear and testify in the case. This was part of a full page article in the paper about a number of cases in the NYS Supreme Court where politics played a role.  I described Wilber earlier as one of our local attorneys and a Democratic Republican. I would love to know how this attorney was involved in this case.  On July 29, 1851 the “Whig” reported that Peter Wanton, who had been convicted of assault and battery with intent to commit a rape in Rensselaer County Court in October 1845 and was sentenced to two years in state prison, now had had his rights restored to him. I went to the County Courthouse to see if I could read about this trial and found that no transcripts of trials are kept???!!! I did confirm the restoration of civil rights to Peter, and the alias.

So Peter was at the same time one of the few black men in our village, one of the few with a family, convicted of a heinous crime, but restored to citizenship and apparently accepted by all as a valued member of the community, employed by the biggest enterprise in town, Briggs and Co. An article in the Troy “Times” on August 31, 1872 reported that Sheriff McKeon had lost a valuable diamond the preceding Monday. “The jewel was found next day near John Down’s hotel (in the park where the World War I statue is) by Peter Mather, the clever sexton of the Presbyterian Church, and in due time restored to its owner. We understand that the sheriff has promised to reward Peter generously both in money and personal kindness. The worthy sexton deserves his good fortune.”  I can’t decide if the article has a patronizing tone- it certainly doesn’t mention that Peter was a black man. It also calls him by his alias. He is buried as Peter Wanton, but the alias was mentioned in 1845, and he was Peter Mather in the 1870 census as well. Why? I can’t explain, but one thought I had about Peter in general is that he began life as the slave of prominent local resident Bethel Mather, who came here from Connecticut shortly after 1800. Gradual emancipation of slaves began in 1799, but was not complete until 1827. In the 1820 census, Bethel had four slaves, including one male under 14 years of age. Peter was born in 1815. In both the 1830 and 1840 census, Bethel had a black male servant of the correct age to be Peter. This could have given him the last name Mather and contributed to his acceptance in town, even after his incarceration. I wish I could find out more about all of this.

 

I’d like to look at some of the other residents of our town in 1850 – it’s hard to choose who…for me every person has a great story….so I think I’ll start with several men who were town supervisor about that time. Charles B. Stratton was supervisor in 1844-47 and 1853. He was born in Saratoga County about 1805. The 1855 census states he had been here for 31 years, which would imply he arrived in 1824.  He does not show up in the 1830 census, but there is a James Stratton. He is in the 1840 census. I found him in the public record first in 1837. An article in the Troy “Daily Whig” on October 3 listed Schaghticoke delegates to the County Whig Convention. Charles was one of the twenty men on that list. The list included a mix of long-time residents and newcomers- the former were mostly farmers, the newcomers, mill owners. Charles was the town clerk in Schaghticoke that year. I think it’s interesting that a new resident was in a prominent role in local government…perhaps a measure of local recognition of a promising newcomer?

Further proof of this could be Charles’ marriage to Eliza Briggs about 1838.  She was the sister of the most prominent mill owner of 19th century Schaghticoke, Amos Briggs. Their first child was born in 1839, a son named Amos Briggs Stratton. He and sisters Caroline Elizabeth, Emma Augusta, and Stella Ambrosia were baptized in the Presbyterian Church in 1843, perhaps the year the family joined. Mother Eliza had been baptized there in 1841. The 1840 census listed Charles as being employed in commerce. Charles was closely involved in business with his brother-in-law for many years, for better or worse.

Charles must have been a good party man, as he was appointed postmaster in Schaghticoke in 1841. This was a political position. Soon after, in 1844, he was elected town supervisor. An article in the Troy “Daily Whig” on April 3, 1845 reported the results of the recent town elections.” Schaghticoke has elected the Whig ticket throughout with the exception of one Constable. Charles B. Stratton is re-elected supervisor. The average Whig majority is about 40. The Whigs of Schaghticoke have done better than they have for many years at a town election and deserve high praise for their services in the good cause. Schaghticoke may now be considered as one of the most decided Whig towns in the county.”

The Whig party formed in opposition to President Andrew Jackson, who was in office from 1829-1837, and his Democratic party. It was the party of Northern entrepreneurs and Southern planters, in favor of economic protectionism, the supremacy of the Congress over the President, and the rule of law, and fell apart later over the issue of slavery.

As of the 1850 census, Charles, 43, listed his occupation as merchant, though I don’t know if he had the store that would imply.  He owned real estate worth $1500, a rather modest amount. The family now included a second son, Charles, age 4, and another daughter, Ann, 3. They had an Irish girl as a domestic servant. I know that Charles worked sometimes for his brother-in-law Amos Briggs as a courier, bringing back cash from a bank in Troy to pay mill workers. At this point this would have been accomplished on horseback, but after the Boston and Maine Railroad went through, Charles could take the train.  Charles was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1852, defeating local mill owner Isaac T. Grant by just 150 votes. The following year he was elected again to be supervisor of the town of Schaghticoke. Unlike now, prominent local men often served just one term in the state legislature, doing their civic duty, then returning home.

Meanwhile, he and Amos Briggs’ younger brother Tibbitts, went into business together, building a cotton mill: Stratton and Briggs. It was in business as of the 1855 census, when the men reported owning real estate worth $5,000 and tools worth $10,000, and manufacturing carpets worth $18,000 in 1854. They employed three men, who made $75 per month; four women, who made $60; and 12 boys and 20 girls under 18.  The mill was down Main Street, next to where Tommy’s Tavern  is today.   The Troy “Budget” reported in summer 1856 that they had gone bankrupt, with liabilities of about $35,000.  Then the Troy “Times” of June 30 1857 reported that “the Stratton and Briggs Cotton factory was destroyed by fire on Sat morning. Loss some $12,000, insured for $9000.”

As one might expect after a calamity like that, in the 1860 census Charles, 52, had a personal estate of just $250. His daughter Carrie, 20, (Caroline) had married Julius Butts, 24. They had a daughter Lillian, 3. Julius was the son of one of the most prominent men in town, Elihu Butts, both a doctor and a lawyer. The young family lived with the Strattons. Julius listed his occupation as merchant, but had a personal estate of $2500, certainly an awkward comparison with his father-in-law.

The Strattons suffered another great tragedy during the Civil War. Their younger son Charles, a little red-head, enlisted in the local regiment, the 125th, in August 1862. He was captured at White Plains, Virginia on July 25, 1863. He was in prison in Richmond, Virginia until the notorious Andersonville Prison opened in early 1864. He died there on June 21, 1864, after what must have been a horrible year of imprisonment.

andersonville ce stratton

grave of Charles Stratton at Andersonville Prison

Shortly after the 1865 census, the Stratton family moved to Brooklyn. The Presbyterian Church records show that daughter Emma went to Brooklyn in 1867. Charles reported a considerable personal worth in the 1870 census- $7000- but gave his occupation as the very odd “collector for a dentist”.   By 1875, the Butts family had joined the Strattons. Charles Stratton, 65, was now a flour merchant. Julius Butts, 37, had a dry goods business. Daughters Emma and Stella were still at home. The Strattons had picked themselves up, distanced themselves from the Briggs, and ended up on their feet.

Charles Stratton died in 1885, at age 80. His wife Eliza moved in with her daughter Emma and her husband Thomas Christie, a merchant from Scotland. She died in 1903 and is buried separately from Charles, in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

William VanVechten/Veghten was town supervisor in 1849 and 1850. While Charles Stratton was an example of the men drawn into town by the booming mill industry, William was deeply rooted in the Dutch and agrarian past of the town, among whom holding a public office for a year or two would be the thing to do.  To give his Dutch heritage, he was born in 1802, baptized at the Dutch Reformed Church, the son of John Van Veghten and Maria DeWandelaer Knickerbocker. John, baptized in the same church in 1773, was the son of Dirk VanVechten and Alida Knickerbocker. Maria, baptized there in 1777, was the daughter of John Knickerbocker, Jr., and Elizabeth Winne. John, Jr. was the inheritor of the family mansion and fortune. The Winnes and DeWandelaers were both old-line Dutch families as well

William VanVechten lived all of his life in the area around the Knickerbocker Mansion, called Old Schaghticoke. In 1828 he married Elizabeth VanAlen. She was one of twelve children of surveyor Evert VanAlen and his wife Dericka of East Greenbush.  They had just one child, a daughter named Deriah, born in 1829. A “Genealogical History of the VanAlen Family” reported that Elizabeth’s husband William had “a large farm of exceedingly fertile soil and possessing a very beautiful landscape,” and that she lived all her married life in “that Dutch village.” This further confirms the insularity of the area around the Knickerbacker Mansion, and its strong Dutch heritage. Dutch was the language of the local Reformed Church until about 1800.

There were several farms labeled “W. VanVeghten” on the 1856 county map, so I’m not sure which was his, but though the roads have changed, I believe it was near the junction of Howland Road and Route 67. I think that William had about 320 acres of land, valued at $32,000 in the 1870 census. He had tools worth $800, nine horses and twelve milk cows. The 1865 census listed that he had 315 sheep and had slaughtered 32 pigs in 1864. William did not have the largest town in farm, but it was good sized, and he was clearly growing for market- both wool and hogs.

William died in 1872. He left his stock in the Lansingburgh Bank to his only grandson, William VanVeghten Reynolds, and divided the rest of his estate between his widow and his daughter Deriah VanVeghten Reynolds. She had married Noyes Reynolds, listed in the 1865 as a “retired merchant” at age 45. Their only child, William, was born in 1850. It’s ironic that the little community where William and his forefathers lived became known as Reynolds, after Noyes, when he lived there for just a few years. The only business I can find that he was in was the liquor business, in Troy and in New York City. He died in 1874, followed by Elizabeth in 1876. Deriah died in 1888 and son William in 1897. He was a graduate of Columbia Law School. All are buried in the so-called Reynolds Cemetery, along Route 67.

dutchrefch

William VanVeghten attended this church

Another local man, John Jacob Sipperly, was supervisor for just one year, 1848. He was a descendant of another early immigrant group to town, the Palatine Germans. His parents, John Sipperly and Mary Stover, came to town about the time of the Revolution. They all lived in the Melrose section of town and went to the Lutheran Church, which was at the east end of North Line Drive. John Jacob was one of the youngest children in a big family, born in 1818. His father died in 1837, leaving five children under 21, including John, and five older. About 1840 he married Margaret Snyder, who lived nearby. John was both a farmer and a carpenter and builder. He married young, and served as supervisor at the young age of 30, with a wife and two-year-old child. 1848 was a very busy year for him, as that year he and Margaret bought 46 acres and a home at the corner of Roe and Pinewoods Road. The land stretched on the north side of Roe to almost opposite my house!  The 1850 census recorded that he was a farmer with real estate worth $6000, and he and wife Margaret, then 25, had two children, Mary, 4; and Lorenzo, 6/12.  Margaret died that year, and those children are not mentioned again. Presumably they also died, but I do not know where any of them are buried.

John married a woman named Harriet before 1855. That census shows John, 36, in a frame house worth $2000, wife Harriet, 24, born in Connecticut, plus son Elbert, just one month old, and a laborer named Friend Esmond, 17. The new residents of the former Sipperly and Cross home, the Adams family, are renovating the small western section of the house, fronting on Roe Road. This has revealed 18th century construction. John and Mary probably started out there, building the new Greek revival house as they could afford it. It certainly helped that John was a builder.

 

sipperly house

Sipperly House, then home of John Cross, now Noah and Katie Adams

John had a relatively small farm, just 42 improved and six unimproved acres. He had only plowed 13 acres in 1854. He grew oats, rye, buckwheat, corn, and potatoes, had 60 fowl, 4 cows which had produced 500 pounds of butter in 1854, 2 horses, and 11 pigs. The number of animals is worthy of a larger farm. It doesn’t say in that census, but surely he was working as a carpenter as well as farming. By the 1860 census, he and Harriet had a second son, George, born in 1859. John had real estate worth $6000 and a personal estate of $4000- rather large. He and Harriet had a servant girl, Hester Whitney, 14, to help with the boys.

The 1865 census showed that he and Harriet had had a third son, Charles, born in 1861. The farm was still just over 50 acres. John had plowed 16 acres in 1864, producing 10 tons of hay, 20 bushels of oats, 70 bushels of winter rye, 80 bushels of Indian corn, and 350 bushels of potatoes. He had three cows, three horses, $13 worth of poultry, and 17 pigs. He had added 14 sheep, which produced 58 pounds of wool. He also had an orchard and experimented- we know because an article in the 1868 Troy “Times” reported that he had a specimen of pear grown on a 3-year-old graft inserted in a mountain ash which produced 26 pears 8” in circumference. The 1870 census showed the birth of a fourth child, a daughter Fannie, born in 1866. The county directory for that year listed John as “carpenter, joiner, farmer.” A joiner would be a builder. A neat article in the December 18, 1871 Troy “Times” reported that JJ Sipperly, neighbor, had” served (?) and dressed” the wound of his neighbor William Clapper, who had chopped his foot with an ax. William Clapper lived in a house of earlier date on the spot where I live.

Harriet Sipperly died before 1875, when John, now 56, was listed in the census as a widower, with children Elbert, 20; George, 16; Charles, 14; Fannie, 9; and John, 2 10/12. Perhaps she died when John was born. The 1877 Beers atlas of the county reported that John sold corn, rye, potatoes and “stock of all kinds”, and that he was also a builder and contractor.

John remarried again, this time to a woman named Kate. The 1880 census found him, 62, with Kate, 37. Elbert had moved out, but the other children were at home.  John was only town supervisor for one year, but he was also active in both church and schools. He was the sole trustee of the local school from at least 1880-1883. He was certainly close to his work, as it was the building next to his home on Pinewoods Road.  Though he grew up a Lutheran, he was a founder and active member of the Melrose Presbyterian Church.

When John died in 1889, the January 22, 1889 Troy “Times” reported that “one of Melrose’s most respected citizens died at age 71.” He was survived by Kate, four sons, and one daughter. Though John died near where he was born, he had expanded his vista beyond the neighborhood. His obituary reported, “He has many friends in Troy.” His will reveals that he had considerable investments, with U.S. bonds worth $4000. He held mortgages worth $2500, real estate in Falls Church, Virginia and Melrose, and Jersey City bonds. Each child received $900. He had one single top carriage and one double-top carriage and a horse named Nelly. As a measure of his prominence, John was not buried with his parents and grandparents in the Melrose Lutheran Cemetery, but in Troy’s grand Oakwood Cemetery.

I have actually been avoiding writing about one of the most important residents of our town in the 19th century, Amos Briggs. This is partly because somehow his diary for 1850 ended up in the New York Historical Society in New York City- and I really need to read it, but have not as yet. Also, I think he deserves a full-length book, which I’m not ready to do.  But the time for procrastination is past. I will just have to add to this story in the future.  Amos Briggs was born in Rhode Island in 1795. I believe he was the son of Isaac and Elizabeth Briggs. I think that the family moved West about 1815, stopping for about five years in Schaghticoke, with the parents going on to Brighton, Monroe County- that is the county where Rochester is. I’m not sure how many of their children accompanied them. Eldest son Amos stayed on here, as did the next oldest, Tibbits. The next brother, Pardon, was born in 1809. While he probably accompanied his parents to Brighton, I think that by 1830, at least, he was living with Amos.  The census that year shows a male aged 15-19 living with him here in Schaghticoke. We would assume that the youngest children, Eliza, born in 1814, and Norman, born in 1819 here in Schaghticoke, traveled west with their parents, but they also returned to Schaghticoke. Only brother Samuel stayed with his parents in Brighton. What was the draw? The prosperity of the mill village of Schaghticoke? The attraction of their vibrant and charismatic big brother Amos? I should note that there were two other Briggs men in the town at the same time, Gardner and Smith, both of whom did work for Amos in the 1820’s. Were they relatives? Uncles? So far, I don’t know.

richard P. Hart

Richard P. Hart, partner of Amos Briggs

Amos clearly had reasons to stay. He was fortunate enough to meet Richard P. Hart, a wealthy entrepreneur of Troy, probably as early as 1820. Richard had wide-ranging businesses and a considerable fortune. Amos Briggs was his man in Schaghticoke for the rest of his life. The property that Richard bought was labelled as Briggs and Hart, implying a partnership, but from the many pieces of correspondence I have read between the men, Richard was clearly in charge.  An “article of agreement” made between the two men on June 1, 1821,  stated “ Amos Briggs has agreed to manage and conduct the cotton mill and will maintain a fair and plain account of all receipts and disbursements and the vouchers for the explanation thereof, and will employ the necessary artisans and laborers for operating the machinery for converting cotton into yarns and cloth and making the necessary repairs and improvements as contemplated in the lease- and Richard Hart will to the best of his ability purchase the necessary stock and cotton and when manufactured to dispose of the manufactured articles as he deems best.” This is the way it remained. Richard had the money, Amos was the man on the spot.

 

It seems to me that Amos had either had experience with mills in Rhode Island or he was a very fast learner.  First, beginning about 1820, Amos worked with Troy attorney David Buel to research the ownership and clear the titles of all the mills in the gorge of the Hoosic River at Schaghticoke, then he and Richard bought them all. Amos managed their renovations, then ran them for Richard Hart. They had  two cotton mills, a woolen mill, and a grist mill. They owned most of the building lots at the lower end of Main Street, reaching down to the current Agway, plus extensive property on the south side of the river. Businesses were built on some of the properties, but the ground rent went to Briggs and Hart. Most of the mill workers lived in mill housing and bought supplies at a store run by the company.  They also owned a farm on Verbeck Avenue, the current West Wind Farm. The day books of the mills, part of the archives at the Rensselaer County Historical Society,  show that the workers received very little cash in pay as they bought their flour from the grist mill, produce from the farm, supplies from the store, and paid their rent to the company as well. This arrangement was very common in the earlier years of the industrial revolution. Factory owners liked to maintain control of their employees, hoping to ensure their more regular attendance at work.

 

 

The men were partners until Richard’s tragic death in 1844, then his widow Betsey stepped into the role along with her son William Howard Hart until about 1865. Amos continued to be the man-on-the-spot in Schaghticoke and Richard and Betsey were the money in Troy.  From many letters written by Amos to William Howard Hart in Troy from 1847-1856, it seems that after Richard’s death, Amos took on both the acquisition of cotton and flax and the sale of the products. For example, a letter on February 24, 1849 stated that “extreme cold weather has frozen up the small streams upon which most of our flax dressing mills are situated, and hence we have not required much money to pay for flax for the past 6 weeks, but if they thaw out soon…we shall require $3500 in the next 2 months to pay for flax taken in here.” Many letters told the money men in Troy the amount they needed to send to their cotton brokers, Wotherspoon, Kingsford, and Company, in New York City. Briggs and Hart bought cotton from them, rather than directly from plantations in the south.  In other letters, Amos gave long lists of the money that was due to them from purchasers of the finished cotton goods. Still others asked for cash, usually about $500, to pay the workers. Before the railroad, the letters and cash were delivered by various messengers, travelling by horseback to Troy. After 1852, the travel could be by train.

briggs mill

from the 1856 county map

It’s hard for us to conceive the dominance that Briggs and Hart must have exerted over what was then the village of Schaghticoke Point. The Hart Papers includes a list of all the property they owned: The Farmers’ Factory Company included the cotton factory, grist mill, fulling mill, clothiers works, engine house, dwelling house for the miller, a stone house, a black smith shop, another dwelling plus twelve other buildings which were leased as either dwellings or commercial space- one, for example, as a inn. The Star Factory property included five other dwellings and the water power for a mill- I think the mill itself had burned. The Congdon Factory included its factory plus three dwellings and a store house. The Joy Factory property included several more dwellings, a barn, the brick toll house, the bridge across the Hoosic River, a number of sheds, plus the linen factory building. The Travis Property included another dozen dwellings plus a number of other buildings which were leased, two brick houses, and about a half dozen vacant lots. All of these buildings and this land were located south of the Presbyterian Church along and across the river in both directions. Some of the lots were leased in perpetuity to people who built stores and house on them; others were occupied by housing for the employees of the mills.  The ownership included riparian rights- control over the water power of the river. The 1856 Rensselaer County map reflects this domination by Briggs and Hart of the real estate in the village of Schaghticoke Point.

The 1855 NYS Census recorded details of two Briggs properties. Amos Briggs Cotton Manufacturer had real estate worth $12,000 and tools and machinery worth $30,000. $31,000 worth of cotton, 228,000 pounds, and made product worth $57,000. The factory employed twenty men, 45 women, 45 boys and 50 girls. Amos Briggs Flax Manufacturer used 175,000 pounds of flax worth $19,000 to produce 155,000 pounds or yards (unit not included) worth $24,000. It employed sixteen men and sixteen women plus ten boys and eight girls. I think it’s interesting that the salaries of the cotton workers were twice those of the flax workers. Men in the cotton mill made $1000 a year vs. $460 in the flax mill.

 

 

 

Turning to Amos’ personal life, he certainly improved his local standing when in 1824 he married Ann Eliza Mather (1800-1886), daughter of one of the most prominent local citizens, Colonel Bethel Mather, who lived at the corner of current Routes 40 and 67, where the bank is. Eliza Ann had been educated at the Troy Female Seminary of Mrs. Emma Willard. His brother Pardon married her sister Emily, another Emma Willard girl. Brother Tibbitts married Sarah Masters Smith, a daughter of another prominent local citizen, Munson Smith, and his wife Fanny, a daughter of the Masters family. The Briggs brothers surely built a strong foundation for their prominent place in the community by these marriages. Sister Eliza contributed too. She attended Emma Willard School beginning in 1831, then as I said earlier, married Charles Stratton, like the Briggs, an incomer into Schaghticoke who became involved in local industry and politics.

Ann and Amos had three daughters: Harriet Mather, born 1825; Elizabeth, born 1829; and Anna, born in 1832. Harriet and Elizabeth attended the Troy Female Seminary, today’s Emma Willard School. Harriet attended the school from 1840-1843.  She married Daniel Packer, of Brooklyn in 1851.  Elizabeth went to Emma Willard at the same time, married George Fellows of New York City in 1846, and died in Paris, where she had lived for several years, in 1887. George had died in Schaghticoke in 1880. Both are buried in Brooklyn. Anna married Charles Cronkhite, a local boy, who worked for her father. (Emma Willard and Her Pupils, NY, 1898)

The 1850 census listed Amos and his family: Amos, 53, a manufacturer with real estate worth $24,000, wife Eliza, and daughters Harriet, 23, and Ann, 19. Daughter Elizabeth was already married to George Fellows. Just she, 21, and son A.B. 2, lived with her parents. Her husband must have traveled back and forth between New York and Schaghticoke. He was a grocer in the city.  The  family had three servants: Bridget Magowan, 18, from Ireland; and Hannah Irish, 17, and Betsey Comstock, 21, black.   Amos’ brother Pardon and his family lived next door.

By the 1860 census the worth of Amos’ real estate holdings had grown considerably, to $70,400, and he had a personal estate of $33,350. At this point daughter Ann, 27, and her husband Charles Cronkhite, 35, lived with Amos and Eliza. Charles was recorded as a manufacturer with real estate worth $50,000. They still had three domestic servants.

I have written about other prominent men in our town in the 1800’s before, and they all followed the pattern of being involved in business, the military, church, politics, and agriculture. Amos did the same, perhaps multiplying the influence with his brothers following suit.  The church of the business elite in Schaghticoke after 1803 was the Presbyterian. Amos bought a pew in 1820, very unusual for a young, unmarried man. He was a trustee in the church by 1831 and served as either an elder or trustee for many years. He was on the committee that researched and built a new church on the same site in 1846. His father-in-law Bethel Mather was another pillar of the church.  Amos was also a Mason, one of the last officers in the Homer Lodge, which dissolved in 1847.

Amos was very involved in politics, along with his partner Richard Hart. The period from about 1820 to the Civil War was one of rapid change in political alliances and parties. Amos appears in a number of newspaper articles about regional politics. In an Albany “Argus” of 1828 he was listed as a supporter of John Quincy Adams, who had been elected President as a “Democratic-Republican.” At the same time he was serving his first years as Supervisor of the town of Schaghticoke, from 1827-1829. I think he was quite  young to be supervisor, just in his early 30’s.

The Democratic-Republicans morphed into Whigs over early 1830’s. Indeed the Albany “Evening Journal” for September 2, 1834 reported Amos had been elected to the State Whig Convention by a local committee.  The “Journal” for September 27, 1838 reported that Richard Hart was elected the Chairman of the Rensselaer County Whigs, and Amos Briggs was a delegate to their convention.   The Whig party was composed mostly of entrepreneurs, interested in governmental support for “internal improvements”, what we would call transportation infrastructure, and a national bank, which could bring regularity to currency in the country.

Amos was again elected Supervisor of the town, from 1834-1835 and 1838-1840.  The Albany “Evening Journal” of April 8, 1835 reported that “Amos Briggs (was) elected supervisor over Job Pierson, the Regency candidate, by a majority of 18. The Regency majority was 34 last fall.”  The “Regency” was a group of NYS politicians, led by Martin Van Buren of Kinderhook, who dominated New York State politics from about 1822-1838. They were an early political machine, seeking to work together to elect each other. Job Pierson was a lawyer, friend of Herman Knickerbocker, and former NYS Congressman, who later moved to Troy, where he was a Judge, then a defense attorney. For Amos to beat him may speak to the popularity of the local mill owner- and source of wages of an increasing number of people- over a “political insider.”  A further article in the “Journal” of April 1840 declared, “The Whigs of their town [Schaghticoke] have reelected Amos Briggs as supervisor. His majority is 78, a larger Whig majority than was ever known at a town meeting.”  This little note also implies that Supervisors were elected at a town meeting, rather than during a day of polling.

The competition between the Whigs and the Democrats, the party of Andrew Jackson, was fierce in Schaghticoke. The Troy “Daily Budget” of April 9, 1841 reported that Nicholas M. Masters had been elected town supervisor over Amos. Nicholas was a co-owner of the Powder Mill. “Schaghticoke is redeemed from the iron rule of Whiggery. NM Masters is chosen supervisor by a majority of 47.” “The county is again redeemed from the thralldom of federal misrule.” How interesting that these two mill owners were in opposing political parties. Generally, Democratic Party supporters were farmers, urban workers, and new immigrants. The party opposed formation of a national bank, while the Whigs were the party of businessmen. Nicholas Masters and his family were farmers as well as mill owners, but Amos Briggs also had a large farm. Both employed immigrants. We need to have them come back for a debate!

The increasing controversy over slavery in the country split the Whigs in the South and North. As Northern Whigs worked toward a new party, some, including Amos Briggs, joined the American Party, also known as “Know-Nothings.” This was an odd fit for Amos, as the party was primarily a reaction by native Protestants against the wave of Catholic immigrants from Ireland. Amos certainly employed a lot of Irish immigrants, but he was elected a NYS Senator in 1855, as reported by the Schenectady “Cabinet” on November 13, as a member of the American party. He served a two-year term, which was about the life-span of the “Know-Nothing” party.

abrahamlincolnseatedinachair

Amos Briggs finally ended up a Republican, and supporter of Abraham Lincoln

Northern Whigs often went on to become Republicans, the new party that elected Abraham Lincoln President in 1860. Amos Briggs was in that group. The Troy “Weekly Times” of October 20, 1860 published the slate of Republican nominees, nationally and statewide, with a letter supporting Lincoln’s candidacy from the “Honorable Amos Briggs” beneath it. This is a measure of Amos’ local importance- his support of Lincoln was seen by the newspaper as influential.  This is certainly based on both his business ownership and his service as a State Senator.  The letter was reprinted in other papers across New York State. Amos immediately cut that article out of the newspaper and included it in a letter to Lincoln, which is preserved in the Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Amos said he was not an office seeker, merely wanting to ensure Lincoln of his support, stating, “I have no motive other than love of country.” The Syracuse “Daily Standard” of September 9, 1861 reported that Amos was a delegate to the NYS Republican Convention in Syracuse. He was elected Vice-President of the gathering. (Batavia “Republican” Sept 17, 1861)

Local newspapers and other publications over the same period recorded Amos’ interest in and prowess at farming. An early agricultural magazine, the “Genesee Farmer” of 1832, listed the Premiums awarded by the Rensselaer County Horticultural Society that year, including Amos Briggs for quinces, grapes, currants, gooseberries, and strawberries. The “Magazine of Horticulture and Botany and All Useful Discoveries Vol 13” reported that Amos had been the Chairman of floral ornaments at the exhibition of the Albany and Rensselaer Horticultural Society in 1847.  The Utica “Daily Observer” of June 29, 1848 reported that Amos was named a judge of farm implements for the upcoming State Agricultural Fair at a meeting in Buffalo. That fall he exhibited at the Horticultural Society in Albany: 2 round bouquets displaying much taste and skill in their construction and a handsome collection of dahlias, German asters, Roses, heliotrope, etc. [Albany Evening Journal Sept 23, 1848] He was interested in many facets of farming, being named to the Butter and Cream Committee of the NYS Agricultural Society for its January 1849 meeting. [Albany Evening Journal Dec 19, 1848]

heliotrope

heliotrope

The 1855 NYS Agricultural Census gives a brief portrait of his farm, which was on Verbeck Avenue, where Westwind Farm is now. I should say, this was the Briggs and Hart farm, part of the business conglomerate.  The farm was valued at $5000, with $400 worth of stock and $250 in tools. On  75 acres in 1854 he grew 500 bushels of corn, 300 of potatoes, 1 ½ tons of flax lint, 50 bushels of flax seed, 40 bushels of apples and six barrels of cider, six sheep, $25 worth of poultry, two oxen, two cows, two beef cows, two milk cows, two horse, and 13 pigs. It is interesting that this man with a linen mill grew some flax, but except for the potatoes, the other items would probably have been grown for his own consumption. The census does not include some of the more exotic things that Amos grew- the flowers and other fruits, for example. By the 1860 census, Amos had 220 acres of land, 100 improved, worth $15,400. He now had 65 sheep and 260 pounds of wool, as would befit a man who also had a woolen mill. But he grew no flax. His ten cows produced 300 pounds of butter in 1859.

So Amos was a very busy man. He had a large farm and was an agricultural hobbyist, was very involved in local and state politics as a party member and office holder, and served on committees in his church. And his real profession was as manager of a number of mills. He traveled periodically to New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington. For example he spent most of February 1851 in those cities. Winter was a good time to travel as the mills probably were not operating. He also traveled to Rochester, where his parents and brother lived. Amos was also a partner in the Schaghticoke Point Bridge Company which operated the toll bridge across the Hoosic River in the village, and invested in another company which planned to build a plank road from Troy to Washington County along the Hudson River, but never finished.

Apparently Amos Briggs was not a good money manager. A nicer way to put it is that he was a generous man. About 1848, he began to become indebted to the corporation, Briggs and Hart, with the amount increasing each year. Perhaps partner Richard Hart had been a brake on his spending, and his untimely death in 1844 set him free.  In 1848, the amount was about $1000. By 1859 it was the astounding sum of $34,083. Somehow, with a salary of about $1000 per year, he invested $10,000 in the Troy and Boston Railroad in 1850.  Betsey Hart and her advisors became increasingly alarmed, and tried to call Amos to account. The amount he owed surpassed all of his personal assets, which the accountant reckoned amounted to $26,000. Though Amos had been paid a salary, he apparently felt free to charge many small expenses to the company- from newspaper subscriptions, to paying a boy to move some cows. Some of these were genuine business expenses, but he and his wife were clearly living above their means. As the Civil War progressed, and it became increasingly more difficult and expensive to acquire raw cotton for the cotton mill, Betsey tried to pin Amos down and close the mill. At first I thought that the lack of cotton was the cause of the closure, but in the end it looks like her increasing desire to end the Briggs and Hart partnership was the cause. She wanted to avoid having Amos even more deeply in debt to her. In the Hart letters there are a number of letters between Betsey’s agents and Amos where they are trying to pin him down, get him to wind up the mills, and he postpones and postpones.

Betsey finally got Amos to close down the operations of the cotton mill about 1869, but Amos must have been a very persuasive man, as at the same time he found investors to enable him to begin a new mill, the Schaghticoke Woolen Mill, in 1864.  I think this was quite ambitious for a 70-year-old man. At the same time Amos was the founding President of the new Elmwood Cemetery Association, which opened the local garden cemetery in 1863.

Sylvester’s “History of Rensselaer County”, published in 1880, writes “the company erected the present large and convenient buildings, supplying them with the best of modern machinery.  The goods made are fancy cassimeres, and 175 hands are employed.” Sylvester goes on to state that the business went bankrupt in 1879 but had been restarted by J.J. Joslin.

woolen mill

Schaghticoke Woolen Mill- to the west of the bridge over the Hoosic River, on the north bank

Amos Briggs died on August 10, 1874 while on vacation in Newport, Rhode Island. The Troy “Morning Whig” reported “A telegram Saturday from Newport announced the sudden death of Hon. Amos Briggs of Schaghticoke. He has long been known to the capitalists of Troy, some of whom have been associated with him in the extensive manufacture of woolen goods at Schaghticoke. Among those was the late Richard Hart of this city.  Mr Briggs was wealthy and possessed much influence.  His death will be greatly regretted.” His funeral was held from his home in Schaghticoke. Of course he was buried in Elmwood Cemetery, with a substantial tombstone.  It would certainly have come as a surprise to many that Amos was essentially broke. But in a note in Amos’ probate file, Fannie M. Smith, a creditor and sole surviving director of the Schaghticoke Point Bridge Co., makes a claim on the estate but withdraws it, “sufficiently acquainted with estate of deceased to say it will not pay his debts in full.” Fannie was the daughter of Munson and Fanny Smith. Her sister Sarah had married Amos’ brother Tibbitts.

Widow Ann Briggs moved in with her daughter, Elizabeth, and her husband George Fellows. They lived in the village, now called Hart’s Falls, with their two children, a coachman, another male servant and four female servants. George’s occupation was listed as farmer. Ann died in 1886. It took some years to unwind all of the property of Briggs and Hart, which is why the Beer’s Atlas of 1876 still lists so many properties in the village as owned by “Briggs and Hart Estate.”

It’s time to bring this extraordinary long series of columns about Schaghticoke in 1850 to a close. As I said at the start, for me it has been much more difficult to write about this topic than earlier ones in the series as there is so much to write about. Columns have covered the new Irish immigrants to town; the new jobs which made the village into a mill town with many stores and services for residents; transportation, from new roads to the approaching railroad; the few black people who stayed on after total emancipation; prominent residents; and politics. Whew. For the most part, I have cited the sources I have used in the text. One uncited was “History of American Steam Navigation” by John H. Morrison, published in 1958. In general, I have used published texts, newspaper articles found with the terrific website fultonhistory.com, the census, local church records, probate files, and the Hart Papers in the archive of the Rensselaer County Historical Society.  Next I will move on to a slightly belated commemoration of the entrance of the U.S. into World War I.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Genealogy Time

 

People have always been interested in their family history, and a couple of recent series on television have just increased that drive to know where and who they come from. New family history researchers begin with the question, “Where do I begin” Well, before plunging into census, web sites, and family tree forms, I suggest you sit down with a piece of paper and write down what you already know. Then take that paper to the next family reunion, or get on the phone or drive to visit your oldest living relatives, and ask them what they know. You may find contradictory names and dates, but include them all. Just be aware that all of the oral information is subject to confirmation and/or change. Peoples’ memories are notoriously faulty. You also may want to decide to work on one branch of the family first, but that’s up to you. Just be organized in your notetaking.
Hopefully relatives will be prompted to find records in the attic, or the family Bible in the book case. Ask them to dig out birth, marriage, and death certificates, and make copies of them. Perhaps there will be photo albums- this is a great time to label them if that has not been done. There is nothing worse than a gorgeous old photo album with no names attached. It’s great to end up with a family tree with photos of some of the people involved. I suggest you don’t limit yourself to names and dates, but collect family stories as well. Photo albums are a great prompt for stories. You can write those down or tape record them (if you still have one of those old fashioned machines).
The next step is to take the information you have and begin to record it on a family tree. You may want to do all of this work online, or you may feel more comfortable writing things down. I inherited family tree records from my mom, who did her work before the internet, so I have it all written down. I have also recorded some of the information online. I like having the written material as it’s easier for me to see connections, plus I can add hard copies of the photos and records I used to do the research, plus my own little notes. But I have also seen family trees online with much of the same information. Then it would be easier to share with other family members, plus unknown family members from all over the world could help with your search, if you choose to make the tree public. This is all your choice.
Familysearch.org is the free genealogy site run by the LDS Church (the Mormons). You can do research and create a family tree there for free. There are several genealogy sites with a fee. I have used Ancestry.com for a number of years for my town historian research. It has an increasingly flexible family tree creator. I have found out some great things from ancestry.com family trees, but 90% of the trees are not well-done, so I am extremely careful with what I find there. As with most things, garbage in, garbage out, and many researchers are eager but don’t do careful work. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use the website as you will be putting in your own information. I suggest you go to a library that subscribes to a couple of the websites and check them out, or look for a free trial period.
If you decide you want to write things down, there are some free forms available online. Check out http://www.familytreetemplates.net. I use both a form that lists a number of generations plus one for each family.

Whichever way you go, be sure to identify the source of any information you record, for example, John Smith, b. Dec 20, 1944. Source, Aunt Tillie. Or John Smith, b. Dec. 20, 1944. Source, birth certificate. Otherwise five years from now you just might not remember where that tidbit came from. In every case, you have to evaluate the reliability of the information you find. 97-year-old Aunt Tillie might not be a good source of a birth date from fifty years ago, but even a family Bible might not be reliable if Aunt Ruth bought it twenty years ago and filled in all the births, deaths, and marriages from 100 years ago to now. If the information in the family Bible has been added in different handwritings over the years, it is more likely to be accurate than one with uniform handwriting, indicating it was purchased and written in by one person from memory. On the other hand, Aunt Tillie might be the only source of information on where Grandma was born, or that she did have a first marriage that she rarely mentioned. She probably has the priceless stories that flesh out the family tree into a story, as well.
An official government document is the best source of information, but even that could be incorrect. Recently I found a death certificate in our town, where the son of the deceased gave the incorrect first name for his grandfather, father of the deceased. In general, though, you can accept the information given on birth, death, and marriage certificates. Gravestones are not official documents. Even though the information on grave markers is “carved in stone”, it isn’t necessarily correct. After all, the dead person usually didn’t provide the information on the stone, and it may have been erected long after the death.

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And spelling….unless your name is extremely easy, it is sure to have been spelled in various ways over the centuries. It is important to be flexible in your search- especially searching an alphabetical index- look at all the possibilities you can think of, and don’t discard an interesting item because the name is spelled a little differently from yours. In our town we have many Ackerts, Ackarts, Eckerts, for example, and VanVechtens, VanVeghtens, and Pratt, Bratt! We are lots more conscious of spelling than people in previous centuries. I have seen the same person spell his own name in different ways in the same document. Sometimes spelling can be a clue to pronunciation of a name. An 18th century resident of town had the first name Umphry- which was certainly Humphrey. He probably dropped his H’s when he spoke.
Okay, now you have written down what you and your family members already know, or already have in their possession- records, photos, etc. You are ready to move on. Thanks to information placed on the internet by many wonderful people and organizations, family research is much easier than even ten years ago. In addition, information is available in libraries, town and county clerks’ offices, historical societies, churches, cemeteries, the National Archives, and the state departments of health. You may even want to take a class in genealogy. Watch the newspaper for classes at libraries or sponsored by the Daughters of the American Revolution or genealogy societies.

Basic sources of information are census, church and cemetery records, vital records, land records, wills, military records, immigration records, old newspapers, specialized web sites, and printed genealogies. Because availability of these records varies from state to state and town to town, it is difficult to generalize about how and where to find them. But more and more of these records are available online. I will focus on what I know well- federal and New York State sources.

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One of my favorite census pages- from Troy, 1850 Note the occupation in the center top

Let’s begin with the census. The federal census was taken every ten years from 1790 on. The most recent census available is from 1940. The 1890 census was destroyed. I have paid for an Ancestry.com for many years. It has all the censuses. Familysearch.org, sponsored by the Church of Latter Day Saints- the Mormons, has the census- and all of its other resources- for free. Some libraries have subscriptions to ancestry.com- for example the Easton Library- inquire at your library. Both sites give access to the original census document, and a transcript of the information, helpful as the handwriting is often poor and/or smudged. I often disagree with the folks who did the transcription, though.
The federal census is a great source of family history, but it gives different information each year. Before 1850, the census only gave the name of the head of the household, with just a count of other family members. After 1850 we get not only the names of the whole household, but also their occupations. Some later censuses include information on place of birth of each family member, years having lived in the state, language spoken, etc. Because the census was done by a person going door- to- door, it often reveals family members living next door to each other. It is subject to error, as it’s possible that information was given by a neighbor, or that the census taker was incompetent. Certainly some of them had horrible handwriting! It’s great that the census has been indexed, but that introduces another source of error-by the person reading that bad handwriting and doing the index. One of my ancestors ended up with the most interesting first name of Andr3, instead of Andrew. I can tell you that the more you work with the census, the better you get at finding what you’re looking for. Like many things, “practice makes perfect.”
In New York State, a census was also taken every ten years, on the years ending in 5, from 1825-1925- though none in 1890- 1892 instead. Other states did census in different years. The NYS census records are available at some local libraries on microfilm, for example in Troy Library’s History Room. I have indexed and transcribed some of them for Schaghticoke and posted my results on the town website. The state censuses are also available on both Ancestry.com and Familysearch.org. Of course these censuses duplicate the information of the federal census, but have some interesting differences. For example, the 1865 census records the service of men who fought in the Civil War.

Did you have an ancestor who fought in a war? Hopefully your family has preserved some of his/her papers and maybe a uniform or uniform parts. There is lots of history online of what individual units did in different wars, but you may want or need some more personal information, and that is available as well.
Depending on the war, there are different sorts of records available. The National Archives, http://www.archives.gov/veterans/ and https://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/pre-ww-1-records.html, has many, many military records from the Revolution to Vietnam and beyond. Most are only indexed online, and can be found and duplicated for you. For example, Civil War pensions cost about $80 for the first 100 pages and take about two weeks to arrive. The US Department of Veterans Affairs hosts this website to find soldiers’ burials around the nation and the world: http://gravelocator.cem.va.gov/ The NYS Division of Military and Naval Affairs, based at the Military Museum in Saratoga, has lots of information about New Yorkers in all wars, from the Revolution to Afghanistan. Other states have information online as well, but I have not found any as good as New York’s.

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New York State Muster Roll Abstract- exist online for all NYS Civil War soldiers

Several paid websites: Ancestry.com, Heritage Quest, and fold3 have a number of military records online, for example, Revolutionary War Pension applications. If your Revolutionary ancestor lived long enough- past 1830- and was poor or was an officer, he may have filed for a pension. This meant giving a detailed description of the man’s service during the war. The files also include information on relatives. The lineage society, the Daughters of the American Revolution, has a great website at http://www.dar.org, where the public has access to its records of Revolutionary Patriots and, in fact, to many other sources of family history. Ancestry.com has other Revolutionary War materials- such as listings of revolutionary war militia companies. Moving forward chronologically, the website fold 3 is adding War of 1812 pension papers to its site. Ancestry.com lists other War of 1812 information.
The Civil War (1861-1865) was the next major conflict of the U.S., and there is quite a bit of information available online about Civil War Soldiers. As I said above, the National Archives has the pension files, which I have been told occupy space as large as a football field and as tall as a man. Men who were disabled in the war applied for pensions immediately, as did the widows of soldiers killed in the war. After 1890, almost any surviving veteran could qualify for a pension. The information in pensions varies widely from man to man. The index to this archive is at ancestry.com. Ancestry.com has other nationwide information: the portion of the 1890 census which reported on surviving Civil War veterans in each town plus information at the state level as well. New York State had exceptionally good records of its soldiers, which are all online in ancestry.com. There are the Town Clerks’ Registers of Men who served in the Civil War, and NY Civil War Muster Roll Abstracts, which describe each man briefly and describe his service. The National Park Service hosts the Soldiers and Sailors Database, another source of Civil War soldier information. http://www.nps.gov/civilwar/soldiers-and-sailors-database.htm

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Charles Brenenstuhl, World War I Soldier. Photo in the NY World War I Veteran’s Service Data in ancestry.com

When it comes to World War I, be aware that the pension papers burned at a fire at the archives in St. Louis in the 1970’s. But I have found that some states have pretty good information online at ancestry.com. Again, New York State has done a particularly good job. All of the World War I draft cards are on ancestry.com, as is a record of each man’s service in the New York World War I Abstract of Service database. In 1921, each town reported on veterans in its town in the New York World War I Veteran’s Service Data, which ancestry also hosts. The kind of data varied from town-to-town, but in Schaghticoke, men described what they did in the war and sometimes sent a photo. The 1930 census had a column headed “Veteran”- with WW denoting World War I veterans.
The National Archives, NYS Military Museum, and Ancestry.com also have a variety of information about World War II veterans. The ancestry.com database is not complete. An additional source in NYS for information of all kinds, is the amazing website: http://www.fultonhistory.com . Tom Tryniski has digitized and put online millions of pages of mostly NYS newspapers, which are digitally searchable. I use this site constantly for many research purposes.
As you can see, there are a number of sources to research your soldier ancestor- I haven’t listed them all, and in practice, when I research a soldier, I use a variety of sources. The more I research, the more I can find. Next week, I’ll explore more sources for genealogical research.

Besides the federal and state census and military records, another source of information is vital records: of birth, death, and marriage. These records are a bit harder to get at than the census, and the location of the information varies with the state. I will use New York State, Rensselaer County, and the town of Schaghticoke as my example, as that’s what I know best. But other towns and states will be similar. Some of this information is online, but not in the quantity of other information as most of it is not kept nationally, but state by state or even town by town.
Remember that the record was generated in the place where the event occurred. For example, if your grandfather, a resident of Schaghticoke, died at Samaritan Hospital in Troy, his death certificate will be in Troy. So you may have to do some investigation to find the right location.
Even though Schaghticoke has been a town since 1789, New York State didn’t mandate keeping records until much later, and the town only has birth, marriage, and death records beginning in 1886, with strict rules for release of information mandated by New York State. No information shall be released from a sealed birth certificate. Information may be released if the birth certificate has been on file for at least 75 years and the person in the certificate is deceased, if the death certificate has been on file for at least 50 years, and if the marriage certificate has been on file for at least 50 years and the bride and groom are deceased. The time periods are waived if the person wishing the information is a descendant of the person in the record, or is designated by the descendant to receive the information. The town clerk may require proof that the person is a descendant. The clerk will copy the information for you, and the fee is $22. You may find that other towns in New York State have records from an earlier date, and towns in New England often do. You may also find that some clerks are easier to work with than others.
Birth, marriage, and death records may also be on file in the church which the people attended. If you don’t know the church your ancestor attended, you may end up checking with every church in a town. In my experience, churches are not wonderful at keeping records. Tombstones and cemetery offices may also have birth and death information. As I said in earlier, tombstones are usually, but not always accurate. If your ancestor was buried in a cemetery that is still receiving burials, there may be a cemetery office with more extensive interment records. For example, some of the cards on file at Elmwood Cemetery in Schaghticoke give all of the information that would be on a death certificate- including the parents of the deceased, and sometimes their birthplaces, as well as cause of death. Some of the cards give no information beyond the name. You may get information from churches and cemeteries by writing letters, but, if possible, it is better to go to the site. Church and cemetery employees often have to put answering genealogical questions at the bottom of the stack of work they have to do. I suggest calling or writing ahead to make an appointment to see those people.

Last week I started to write about sources of birth, death, and marriage records for genealogists. Beyond town clerks, you can turn to your town historian.
Every town in New York State has a town historian. She or he may also have some vital records, as well as other genealogical information. You may find information about the historian on the town’s website, but a letter addressed to “town historian, town of _______” should reach the person. In the case of the town of Schaghticoke, check out the links on the town’s web site. I also have an index to the records of the Schaghticoke Dutch Reformed Church, spanning about 1750-1840, which is not on the site. Be persistent in reaching the town historian. He/she is often virtually a volunteer, and may not check in with the office frequently.
Some vital records have been posted online. All of the major commercial family search websites include varying amounts of vital records Try http://www.Ancestry.com , and http://www.HeritageQuest.com. For example, Ancestry.com has the Social Security Death Index, for those who died after 1935. This gives the name of the person, date and location of death. The Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons or LDS) also has an excellent free website, http://www.familysearch.org , which incorporates many church records. More localized information is on the US GenWeb site, which is a national free site run by volunteers and organized by state and county. The Rensselaer County address is http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nyrensse/. In Rensselaer County, the LDS church has catalogued all cemeteries, with the information online at the website just given. The amount and quality of information varies widely with the county and state. As I have said before, you may find that your library has a subscription to HeritageQuest and/or Ancestry.com, saving you the fee.

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Sample of a family record page from a family Bible- a good one, added to gradually over time

New York State also has birth, death, and marriage records on file in the Department of Health, beginning in 1880. If you desire a copy of the original record, this is the way to go. You will need to fill out an application form, available at the NYS Dept. of Health Vital Records Section, online, and send it with $22 for each record desired. Unfortunately, it will take at least six months to get a response to your request. You could also go to the Health Department in person, (800 North Pearl St, 2nd floor, Rm 200, Menands) fill out an application, pay, and receive a response by mail in 7-10 days.
If you don’t know the year of your ancestor’s birth, marriage, or death (after 1880), there is an index to all of the records at the Health Department at the New York State Archives, on the 3rd floor of the NYS Education Department (the building where the NYS Museum is). Unfortunately, you will have to search the index year by year, though each year is alphabetical. If you don’t know the exact date of the birth, death, or marriage, you can also pay the Health Department to search. The original $22 fee includes a search of three years on each side of the year you request, the Health Department website quotes fees for wider searches, generally about $20 more for each five more years searched.

You might find other family history information in land records and wills. Again I will use my town and Rensselaer County as my examples, though the research should be similar in other parts of New York State. Other states may be different.
Why look at deeds? Deeds records property transfers, which may be from father to son or brother to brother, confirming family relationships. Often husband and wife transferred land, confirming marriages. It can also be fascinating to find out where your family lived. When family researchers visit me at my office, one of their most common requests is to see where their families lived. They find it very satisfying, uplifting, and illuminating to stand in the footsteps of their ancestors.
In looking for deeds, it may be important to know something of the history of the county and town where your ancestor lived. Most counties had a history written about them in the late 19th century, available at the local library or from the town historian, and often published online. This will let you know when the county was established, and what land grants it came from before that. For example, Rensselaer County was created from Albany County in 1790. If you are doing deed research before that, you would need to go to Albany County. In the case of Schaghticoke, the area around the Knickerbocker Mansion was part of a land grant belonging to the city of Albany. Settlers who lived there until the early 1800’s actually rented the land from the city of Albany, so land records for them are in the city of Albany. In the case of the town of Schaghticoke, from 1819 to 1912 the Pleasantdale and Speigletown sections of town were part of Lansingburg, rather than Schaghticoke. Doing a bit of reading about the history of the area where your ancestors lived can save you searching in a courthouse or town hall where there would be no chance of finding any information.
Deeds in Rensselaer County are in the annex of the Courthouse, with the entrance on 3rd St, just at the back of the big Courthouse building in Troy. Once there, I suggest asking for help with the indexes to deeds, the grantee and grantor indexes. Grantees are the people buying land; grantors are the people selling land. The terminology in deeds can be difficult, so don’t be discouraged. In addition, some old deeds are handwritten, some have been retyped. The courthouse also has a few old maps of the county. The courthouse record room is open Monday to Friday from 9-5, and until 7 p.m. on Thursday nights.
Another source of land information is old maps. Just about every town had a couple of very detailed maps made in the mid to late 19th century. At the town hall in Schaghticoke, we have a map from 1856 on the wall in the hall, and one in Beers Atlas of 1876 in my office. The maps give the site of every home, with the name of the owner. This can be very helpful if your ancestor owned rather than rented a home. Many of these maps are also online now, or available in libraries. The federal and state censuses in the 20th century also give an address for each family, but usually only the name of the road. Road names and hence addresses have changed fairly frequently, and having an exact address in the country is a mid-20th century development, so it may be hard to pinpoint where ancestors lived.

While in the courthouse, you could check out the wills in the Surrogate’s Court. If your ancestor left a will, it can provide a wealth of information about family connections. You might hit the jackpot and find an inventory of possessions included with the will. In Rensselaer County, the court has an index to wills, and the wills themselves on microfilm or in books. These wills are now included in the ancestry.com data base, along with many, many New York State wills.

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TIGS has a ton of information about Troy area people- lots of transcriptions of records, and the index to the Rensselaer County Probate records

If your ancestor did not make a will, that is died intestate, there may still be a file in the records of the Surrogate’s Court. Or if your relative had a will and the estate was complicated or contested, there may be a further file in what are called the probate files. The Court House has them on microfilm. The original probate files are in the Rensselaer County Historical Society, 57 2nd St, Troy. I am proud to say that my mom indexed these thousands and thousands of folders. That index is online on the website of the Troy Irish Genealogical Society (http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nytigs/SurrogateCourtRecords/SurrogateCourt_Intro.htm ) Once you find a file which interests you, you can either go to the Rensselaer County Historical Society, pay a $7 fee and see the file in person, or pay a $30 fee for them to pull and photocopy the file for you. http://www.rchsonline.org/library-and-research/. The Library is open Thursday-Saturday from noon to five. Over the years I have seen many family researchers be delighted to find out about family connections from these files, or read an inventory of every room in an ancestor’s home, getting real insight into how they lived.
For other places and states, I can say that the online genealogical sites, from Ancestry.com, to usgenweb.org, have some wills. You might find it worthwhile to check out what is there as part of a general search, but there isn’t the comprehensive information that the county courthouse of the place they lived will have. You could try writing to a county historian or historical society in any state to ask for help- or ask for them to recommend a local researcher. Or this may be a case where a trip in person would pay off. If you decide to travel, I strongly recommend calling, emailing, or writing ahead to local historians to find out where you should visit and schedule appointments. Over the years, I have had a number of researchers show up from hundreds of miles away with no notice. Many historians are part-time or volunteers so may not be available to help you, and sources of information vary widely from place to place. Why risk a long trip for nothing?!

All of us have immigrant ancestors. The date they arrived in the US determines how to find information about them. The US Congress passed a law requiring manifests, or lists, for ships arriving in the US, beginning in 1819. For arrivals before that date, there are some books and web sites which have compiled information on immigrant arrivals in the colonial period. One is the Immigrant Ship Transcribers’Guild (http://www.immigrantships.net/) This site will take some time to navigate, but there is a lot there.
After 1819, the US passed many laws on procedures for recording immigrants, and the records that were kept varied, but between the National Archives: http://www.nara.gov, and the Ellis Island web site, http://www.ellisisland.org, you should be able to find information on immigrant ancestors. It can be very difficult if your ancestor has a common last name, but the indexes to the ship manifests are at the National Archives, and the ship manifests after 1895 are all online and indexed at the Ellis Island site.
There are also organizations and web sites that focus on the details of finding a particular nationality of immigrant, for example Irish or Italian. Watch for newspapers advertising local workshops on those topics, as well. I strongly recommend attending a special session for your nationality of interest.
Of course your ancestor didn’t necessarily arrive in New York City, at Ellis Island or its predecessor. There were many ports up and down the Eastern seaboard, including Canada, so you may have to check the National Archives for non-Ellis Island arrivals. After 1895, the US border with Canada closed, and immigrants from Europe entering the US from Canada were recorded. There are indexes to those arrivals at the National Archives as well. There used to be a branch of the National Archives in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. It closed several years ago, but its collection of microfilmed records and books were transferred to the public library, the Berkshire Athenaeum. The website for the genealogy section of the library is: http://www.pittsfieldlibrary.org/genealogy.html.
If you don’t know when your immigrant ancestor arrived in the US, you can get some idea from the census. The 1900, 1920, 1920, and 1930 US censuses and the 1855, 1905, 1915, and 1925 New York State censuses all had a question about how long an immigrant had been in the US. Of course, depending on the memory of the person, and who actually answered the census question- the person himself or a neighbor- that information may be more or less accurate. The census also indicates the country the person came from- though the names may have changed over the years. For example, “Austria-Hungary” means the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and may include parts of what are now Poland and Russia. That’s why the naturalization papers are important too.
Once the immigrants arrived, a next step for many was to become naturalized citizens of the US. The process of naturalization generated a number of documents, another boon for family history researchers. Naturalization was usually handled through the county courts in New York State, so that is where you would have to search for information. One web site, http://www.italiangen.org, has a partial index to naturalizations in New York Counties, and http://www.familysearch.org also has some county courthouse records. Ancestry.com has quite a few naturalization records as well. Depending on the type of record, you may find information on where your relative came from in Europe and his family.
As you can tell, this topic is complicated. There are many websites that explain more about the topics I have introduced. Your hard work will be worth it when you find the original manifest listing your immigrant ancestor’s arrival in New York City, along with how much money he had in his pocket and the name of the little town in Ireland or Italy from which he arrived.

Summary

This is a huge topic, and I feel hesitant to even broach it with my limited experience. I hope I have given you enough information to get started, at least. Once begun, I think you will find genealogy rather addictive, and extremely rewarding. As town historian, I meet many people who plan their vacations around visiting places their ancestors lived, both to do more research and just to walk in their footsteps, see the vistas they saw. And that is just in Schaghticoke. How about planning that trip to Ireland or Italy to research there? My daughters have had a great time visiting some of my husband’s Irish relatives. The internet will provide lots of hint on European research before you go.
Here is a summary of some useful local places for research, both physical and online. As before, I am restricting myself to Rensselaer County, but every county will have similar resources.

Places: The New York State Library and Archive, in the Cultural Education Center in Albany- census,
Index to vital records, genealogy
The New York State Health Dept., 800 North Pearl St., Menands- vital records
The Rensselaer County Courthouse Annex, 105 3rd St., Troy- Naturalization, wills, deeds
The Rensselaer County Historical Society, 57 2nd St., Troy- wills, city directories, books
Troy Public Library, Troy History Room, 100 2nd St. Troy- census, newspapers on
microfilm,index to vital records in the local papers city directories, access to ancestry.com
Family History Center, Loudonville; access to state census, church records
Churches and cemeteries
Other libraries have access to ancestry.com and other paid sites

Sites: http://www.usgenweb.org free, information input by volunteers, very localized
http://www.ancestry.com available at many libraries, by subscription at home
http://www.heritagequest.com available at libraries, by subscription at home
http://www.familysearch.org the Latter Day Saints (Mormon) website- free
http://www.dar.org the site of the Daughters of the American Revolution-
http://www.rootsweb.org another free site
http://www.nara.gov the National Archives site
http://www.ellisisland.org all of the arrivals at Castle Garden and Ellis Island
http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nytigs Troy Irish Genealogical Society- index of probate records in
Rens. Cty, lots of other Irish related stuff

There are thousands of websites that may help with family research. Also, remember that every town in New York State has a town historian who should at least be able to point you in the right direction. And every town hall will have vital records from about 1880 on. Good luck!

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