History of the Town of Schaghticoke

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

Schaghticoke in the American Revolution: A New Perspective on the Death of Major VanVeghten

 

How do we accurately know and report what happened in the past? We learned in school that we should consult primary sources- oral histories; diaries; newspaper reporting; birth, death and marriage certificates, etc. – things created by the people who participated in the events.  Of course, we know that everyone experiences an event differently, people’s memories can be faulty, and recorders make errors, so even primary sources can be inaccurate or incomplete. Then historians put together the information in the primary sources and write journal articles and books- creating secondary sources. I know as a historian who does this herself that it is very hard to be totally objective in this process, and I am always worried there is more information to find. In fact, some writers of history have a deliberate bias. As students, we mostly depended on secondary sources of information when we learned history, along with lectures from teachers with different levels of ability and knowledge. So what we know is certainly a fuzzy snapshot of the past.

So a new source of primary information on a long-ago event is welcome, and surprising.  One of the classic tales in the history of Schaghticoke during the American Revolution is that of the murder and scalping of Major VanVeghten.  As the story goes, Dirck or Derrick VanVeghten, a Major in the 14th Albany County Militia, our local regiment, made a trip to check on his farm, near the Knickerbacker Mansion, just before the battle of Saratoga, in summer 1777. The 14th was based at Stillwater, helping transport supplies for the American Army across the Hudson. VanVeghten and his aide, Solomon Acker, were attacked by a group of Indians and Tories. VanVeghten was killed and scalped, but Acker escaped. He returned with help to retrieve the Major’s body. VanVeghten was shot through the tobacco box, which was preserved by his family.

Acker gave a simple version of the tale in his Revolutionary War pension application in 1832, placing it in July 1777, but told a longer story which long outlived him, making it into Sylvester’s “History of Rensselaer County” in 1880 and elsewhere, with some variation.  Acker’s tale is a good example both of traumatic events being seared into a person’s memory for life, and the possibility of a bit of change and embroidery of the tale over the passing years.

Recently, a gentleman named Charlie Frye, who has a blog called “Duty in the Call of Liberty,” wrote to tell me of a version of the story told in the “History of the town of Wilton, New Hampshire,” published in 1888. It includes the narrative of another long-lived Revolutionary War veteran, Joseph Gray. Gray’s narrative had been recorded in 1839. As a youth of 16, he marched as part of the 3rd New Hampshire Regiment to Ticonderoga in May, 1777. They retreated before the British General Burgoyne down the Hudson Valley, destroying bridges to slow the British advance.  Once they reached Stillwater, about the beginning of August, a detachment, including Gray, was sent to Schaghticoke, “a small Dutch village.” This would have been the settlement around the Knickerbocker Mansion- where there was a church- near the junction of current route 67 and Knickerbocker Road- and a small log fort. The “inhabitants being alarmed at the appearance of savages who were lurking about, sent for a detachment of troops to guard them off.” I have read in the pension files of local militia men that they were either assigned to guard supplies at Stillwater or help move artillery from Fort Edward to Stillwater at this time. If they had been at Stillwater, one might think they would have been able to return to help their families, but perhaps not. They were in the Army, after all, and subject to orders. Hence the need for the New Hampshire men, who were not militia but Continental troops.

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Perhaps this is the kind of “white frock” the Indians were wearing

Residents of the farms from the area had gathered together for safety.   Gray was on guard that night, sitting near the Dutch Reformed Church, “on a beautiful level plain,” now the Weir Farm. If the men saw anything moving they were to yell, then if they got no answer, to shoot. They had been told that the Indians were wearing “white frocks”, probably long, loose linen jackets. He saw something white coming towards him in the starlight and shouted, “Who comes there?” No answer. After three hails, he fired, and found he had shot a “meager white faced bull.”

The next day, two of the local farmers, among those gathered near the church, rode their horses to their farms, “about ¾ of a mile distant,” to get some provisions. The soldiers soon heard “the well-known report of Indian fusees (muskets), and were much alarmed for the safety of the men.” One of them soon rode in at full speed, calling for help. His friend had been shot and scalped, his throat cut. The New Hampshire commander, Major Ellis, called for reinforcements, and the militia men escorted the  villagers four miles down the river “to a place of safety,” presumably Lansingburgh. Gray went on to fight in the battle of Saratoga, then on to other battles of the war with his militia.

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In 1840, Gray’s narrative was published in a magazine in New Hampshire, “The Farmers’ Cabinet.” A resident of Schaghticoke, Mr. B.A. Peavey, wrote to the magazine in reply.  Peavey was inspired by the article to speak to elderly residents of town to see if they knew of this incident. Amazingly, Peavey reported speaking to Major Vanvecton(sic), “aged between 70 and 80”, who remembered the man shot by the Indians. “His name was Siperly;” “the man who came riding back was Old Poiser.” VanVecton even showed Peavey where Siperly had fallen, on the “bank of the Tompanock Creek, where a point of the hill presses the road close to the creek.”

He added that “immediately after the death of Siperly, Major Knickerbocker of the settlement sent his negro to the North River…where some of the neighbors were engaged in placing their property aboard of boats to secure it from the enemy.” Major VanVecton’s father and Solomon Ackerth (sic) started for the settlement. They were shot at by Indians, and “Vanvecton received two balls in his thigh, which passed through his tobacco box in his breeches pocket, and he fell…Ackerth shot one Indian and killed him…took VanVecton’s gun and wounded another.”

Major VanVecton had preserved the tobacco box with the bullet hole. His father had lived just to the south of the Dutch Reformed Church.  Another informant, “Black Tom,” presumably an African-American, was 12 at the time and told Peavey he remembered the bull being killed.

So, let’s look at each part of this wonderful statement. Certainly, this account emphasizes how dangerous it was in Schaghticoke in summer 1777. It also confirms the story of Solomon Acker about the death of Major Derrick VanVeghten, and adds the death of another man. It also makes it seem that Derrick VanVeghten and Solomon Acker went to check on the beleaguered citizens of Schaghticoke, probably including their own wives and small children, rather than just checking on VanVeghten’s property.

First, as to the man writing the letter to the “Farmers Cabinet,” there was a Benjamin A. Pevey living in Schaghticoke in 1840. In the 1850 US census, he was a 54-year old laborer, with a wife and many children. He moved to New Hampshire by 1860 and died in Massachusetts in 1864. Second, as to the “Major Vanvecton” who was the informant, I feel this was John, son of the man killed, Derrick VanVechten. John was born in 1773 and lived until 1860 in Schaghticoke as a wealthy farmer. He did serve in the local militia, though I cannot find he was a Major- perhaps there was an exaggeration of his rank. But he could have been Pevey’s informant.

As to the man who died, Siperly, there was one Sipperly, Jacob, on the roster of the 14th Albany County Militia, but he survived the war. But there were other Sipperlys in town. “Old Poiser” could be Piser, I suppose, and there were Pisers in town early on. For example, a Christian Piser is buried in the Lutheran Church in town. He died in 1800 aged 77. There are just not death records, newspapers, nor surviving tombstones from that era. Plus, Sipperly and Piser were Lutherans, who lived in the Melrose/Pittstown area, so would they have been over near the Dutch Reformed Church? Perhaps they too had moved to what was then the town center for protection? We just won’t know, I think.

Returning to the letter, of course, there wasn’t a Tompanock Creek, but Tomhannock, so we know there was an error here. But the Tomhannock is close to the road along Buttermilk Falls Road today, where there is a hill on the east side, making the location a possibility. It is also interesting that Major Knickerbocker’s “negro” was sent to the North River- this was certainly the Hudson River- and the North River was another name for it. He was actually Colonel Knickerbocker, a higher rank. The VanVechtens did live just south of the church.  And finally, “Black Tom” , who remembered the incident with the “murder” of the bull, was certainly Thomas Mando, who began life as a slave of the Knickerbockers, born about 1767, and lived on in town until at least 1850, when he appeared in the census at age 83. So it seems that much of this account is possible, and perhaps probable.

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This article from Harper’s Magazine in 1876 was all about the Knickerbockers of Schaghticoke. Was this supposed to be “Black Tom”?

In doing more research as a result of reading Gray’s account, I found that there was lots of confusion about the murder of VanVeghten in the Van Veghten family itself. “Genealogical Records of the VanVeghten Family”, by Peter VanVeghten (1900) tells a wildly inaccurate version.  In this version, Major Derrick was part of a group including a Colonel Solomon Acker, that pursued the party of Indians and Tories who had murdered Jane McCrea near Fort Edward. As you may remember from middle school, Jane McCrea was the fiancée of a Tory soldier in the British Army and was killed and scalped by Indian allies of the British while being taken to him on July 27, 1777. Her fate was one of the rallying cries which brought American militiamen to fight at the battle of Saratoga.

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Illustration from “Spirit of ’76”- now calling the tobacco box a “bullet pouch”

This VanVeghten story promotes Solomon Acker to a Colonel, includes a wild image of the tobacco box,  labeled “Major Derrick VanVeghten 1777”, which it states is in the possession of Henry C. VanVechten of Racine, Wisconsin, a great-great grandson. It adds a quote from the “Troy Telegram” of July 21, 1882: “the bones of Lieut. VanVechten were accidentally exhumed at Fort Edward yesterday by workmen…VanVechten was a soldier…and was killed while in pursuit of the party who murdered Jane McCrea.  He was buried on the brow of the hill near the spot where he fell…the ball was still in the skull when found.”  It seems this story really is about a Tobias VanVeghten, who was a Lieutenant in Colonel Goose VanSchaick’s Batallion, the 2nd NY Regiment in the Continental Army. Tobias and some others were based near Fort Edward and were attacked by a group of Native Americans who were rampaging in the area and were probably those who killed Jane McCrea as well. So this happened on July 27, 1777. Tobias was buried near the spot where he fell.

The inaccurate story in the VanVeghten genealogy also appears in “The Spirit of ‘76”, written in 1896, as a part of a longer article about VanVeghten family and memorabilia, and completely shifts the story from Schaghticoke,  to a Derrick VanVeghten who has now become a Major in the Tryon County militia regiment of Cornelius VanVeghten, with Colonel Solomon Acker. The tobacco box remains but now is pewter.  There was a Lt. Col. Cornelius VanVeghten, but he was with the 13th Albany County Militia. I have found no Colonel Acker. One possible source of the some of the confusion could be that the death of Major Dirck VanVeghten of the 14th Albany County Militia on August 8, 1777, is reported in a list of casualties in a Tryon County regiment at Oriskany on August 6   (Documents relating to the colonial history of the state of New York vol XV, Albany 1887- appendix, p 549). Indeed, a photo of the tobacco box was exhibited at a World’s Fair in Wisconsin in 1893, labelled as from Major VanVeghten, who died at the battle of Oriskany.

So I can conclude that the great article in the Wilton history confirms the very dramatic story of Major Derrick VanVeghten and his aide Solomon Acker riding near the Denison Farm on Buttermilk Falls Road on August 8, 1777, when they were set upon by a few Indians. The Major was shot, killed, and scalped. Acker escaped and returned with help to retrieve his body- and his tobacco box- . It adds the information that another local man was murdered the day before and that the settlers of our little town were evacuated to Lansingburgh with the help of the New Hampshire Militia.  Just to wrap up the story, Major VanVeghten’s wife, Alida Knickerbocker, lived on until 1819, his son John reported the events in 1840. Solomon Acker lived in Schaghticoke until 1836, when, at age 83, he moved to Connecticut to live with his son David. He is recorded there in the 1840 census, listed as 90, but died before 1850.

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The A.E.F. Arrives in France and the Homefront Responds

The Centennial of U.S. participation in World War I continues. As I wrote earlier, in the months from our declaration of war in April 1917 through the end of the year, the U.S. instituted the draft and planned to add about 700,000 men to the US military, just to begin, mobilized to feed and outfit those new soldiers, took control of the food supply of the U.S., and began to ship soldiers to France. On the home front, volunteers conducted the draft, joined the Red Cross and began to knit, knit, knit for the troops; and everyone began to eat less wheat and meat to meet the request of the government, bought Liberty Bonds to help finance the war, and boosted their patriotism.

A few men from Schaghticoke enlisted in the old 2nd NY Infantry of the National Guard, based in Troy, before the draft of June 5. The 2nd was now nationalized and renumbered the 105th NY of the 27th Division in the U.S. Army.  It began training at Camp Wadsworth, South Carolina in September 1917.  Other local men were drafted beginning about the same time. Many of the draftees trained through the winter at the new cantonment at Camp Devens, west of Boston.  A couple of local men had enlisted in units of railroad engineers in Boston and New York, and were among the first US troops to reach France, by fall 1917,  where they were busy constructing the railroads essential to transport soldiers and equipment to the front.

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U.S. Engineers marching in London, en route to France

On January 10 1918, the Troy “Times” published a report from the US Secretary of Defense: an Army of 1 ½ million men was now training or abroad, “without dislocation of the nation’s industries.” “No army of similar size in the history of the world has ever been raised, equipped, or trained so quickly.” 16 cantonments to train them had been built.  Remember, the US Army had numbered about 100,000 when war was declared, the National Guard about the same. So this was a very impressive increase.

Throughout the war, the front page of the Troy “Times”, the local paper for Schaghticoke, reported news of the different fronts of battle in great detail, from Europe to Russia to Italy to Jerusalem.  The newspaper was the source of news in those pre-radio days, and those who read the paper would have been very informed on what was going on throughout the world.  It printed transcripts of major speeches by political figures, detailed accounts of world events, and maps of battlefields.   Almost daily, there was a photo from the Committee on Public Information, the propaganda arm of the US Government. The photo showed soldiers training, various allied commanders, patriotic Americans doing things which supported the troops, etc. One of the major developments in the world was the Russian Revolution, which was reported in full. With the collapse of the Russian Army on the Eastern Front of the war, the German Army would be free to concentrate its forces on the Western Front in 1918, threatening our Allies France and Britain even more.  As 1918 began, there really was a race to get American soldiers into battle before the French and British Armies were overwhelmed.

 

 

The November 30, 1917 paper reported that National Guardsmen from every state were in France, though it was not permitted to report who and exactly where. As the new year began, the newspaper began to report US killed and wounded.  While newspapers did list casualties by name, they were careful not to say what units they were in and where the men had been wounded or killed.  The French newspapers republished these lists, and there was concern that the information could be used by the Germans to figure out where and how many US troops were based in what part of the front lines. Soldiers’ mail home was censored carefully for the same reason.  As time went on, there was a bit more information given: on February 16, the paper reported that Americans were fighting west of Verdun and east of St Mihiel in France, but gave no further details.

There was almost a daily report on the continuing examination and induction of men into the Army from the list created by the draft of the preceding June 5. Men were called to Hoosick Falls, examined, and accepted or rejected. For example on January 25, the paper announced that a number of men were to report for their physical exam on Tuesday,  including these from Schaghticoke:  Julius Hansen, Andrew Gatzendorfer, Wilbur Simons, Sophus Djernes, John Roberts, Arthur Brundige, Charles J. Welch, and Walter Ralston. Generally, almost half of men were rejected for one reason or another, but all of those men went on to serve.

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Arthur Brundige, a photo he submitted to the NYS Veterans Questionnaire in 1921

And the paper reported daily events designed to raise money for the Red Cross or other organizations supporting the troops through fall 1917 and spring 1918. For example, there was a card party in Valley Falls, a Kitchen Band and “Sinkphony” Orchestra concert at the Presbyterian Church, and a euchre party at St. John’s Catholic Church in Schaghticoke.  The Red Cross unit in Schaghticoke held a sock social with proceeds to be used to buy yarn to knit socks for soldiers. The “Shady Town Minstrels and Jubilee Singers” performed at the Odd Fellows Hall to raise more money.  In January, the YMCA, the American Bible Society, and the Federal Council of Churches reported that 1 million Bibles were needed for the troops.  On February 9 the paper reported that 200,000 Christmas packages had been sent to soldiers in France, a huge number considering that not that many American troops were in France yet.  A new way to support the troops was reported on February 12, “Smileage Books.” They were booklets of tickets to entertainments at theatres at training camps, and could be purchased to send to the men. They were available at a number of retail stores.

The government continued to sell war bonds to finance the war, and in December added the sale of war stamps, seeking to sell $2 billion worth. The stamps were for sale at Post Offices, schools, and banks in 25 cent denominations with plans “to make every school child in America buy at least one…during the first week of the …campaign.” Once a book of stamps was filled, it could be converted to a bond, thus enabling poorer citizens and even children to contribute to the war effort. The 4 Minute Men, volunteers who gave patriotic speeches at theatrical performances and to groups, had the war stamps as their topic in January.  Most ads in the paper added some touch of patriotism or an exhortation to buy bonds or stamps. “Joan of Arc saved France. Women of America Save your Country. Buy War Stamps.”

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My photo from the WWI Museum in Kansas City

The US government also took further steps to put the country on a war footing. At the end 1917, German aliens were required to register, seeking to “sift out” the few who were “setting fires in munitions plants and grain elevators”, and committing other acts of sabotage. The aliens were not to take ferries, nor live in Washington, D.C. nor go to Panama (where they might threaten the canal), and needed permits to travel. Military enlistees of German and Austrian extraction were to be given duty apart from actual fighting. This was quite a change from the announcements when war was first declared that Germans were to be treated as usual.

On December 18, 1917, the newspaper announced an inventory of food resources in the U.S. issued to food dealers, manufacturers, and “holders of substantial quantities of food”. Then on January 28, 1918 it announced that all families should aim to have “two wheatless, one meatless, and two porkless days per week” and one wheatless and one meatless meal per day.  Cards were given to all households to help families keep track of their meals.  This was voluntary, but commercial bakers were required to manufacture the “Victory loaf”. They would begin by substituting 5% of the wheat flour with a different kind, for example corn meal, rye or barley flour, and increase the amount gradually, reaching 20% by February 24. Shoppers could only buy flour if they bought an equal amount of a flour substitute, like one of those listed.  The goal was for the country to consume 1/3 less wheat than in 1917. On February 5, the Food Administration ordered hotels, restaurants and dining cars on trains to serve 2 ounce bread rations, the same as in Britain.  In addition, “every day…(was) a fat and sugar saving day.” Readers were exhorted to waste no soap, as it was made from fat. On February 22, the paper reported that meatless days had already saved 140 million pounds of beef in four months and that 165 million pounds of beef and 400 million pounds of pork had been shipped to our Allies. Note that neither mutton nor chicken was included in the definition of meat, just beef and pork.

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And in response to an acute shortage of coal in the Eastern states, on January 17, Dr Harry Garfield of the National Fuel Administration ordered businesses east of the Mississippi River to close for the next five days plus the ten following Mondays. Some places were exempt, for example steel plants and schools. Coal was needed for transportation of soldiers and equipment by train in the US and by ship to France, and for manufacture of war materiel. An ad on January 8 exhorted, “Save Coal. Keep your Rooms at 68 Degrees. Uncle Sam Needs it!”   In the end, the heatless Mondays ended February 14, as the shortage had eased, but this would have been quite a sacrifice for a number of businesses- and presumably workers, who would not have been paid.

 

 

The U.S. Government also nationalized all the railroads in the U.S. on December 27. By this I mean that it ran the railroads, not that it took over ownership of them.  The newspaper had a number of articles about the logistics of this- but efficiency was essential in transport of soldiers and their equipment, plus transport of material needed for ship building and manufacture of other essential war materiel. Railroads were the major way that everything was transported in these pre-truck days. In our capitalist country it still must have been revolutionary for the government to take control of the railroads from their millionaire owners.

Once the new Army was trained, the troops needed to get overseas. The US Navy was tiny. The US seized all German ships in US ports as soon as war was declared in April.  German Ocean liners were repurposed as troop transports, along with US and British ships. The US immediately started building ships, but in the meantime- and as it turned out, for the bulk of the war- British ships transported most American men and materiel.  Our German foes planned to sink many of these transports to prevent the American Army from even reaching France. I have read several books about World War I which stated that no American troop transports were sunk by German U-Boats, but this is untrue.  According to “The American Army in France” by James G. Harbord, the “SS Antilles”, an American ship chartered by the US Navy for troop transport was sunk by a U-Boat on October 17, 1917.  Fortunately she was on her way home after discharging her troops in France, but 67 men drowned. Others were rescued by other ships in the convoy.

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“S.S. Antilles”, sunk by a U boat                 “S.S. Tuscania”, also sunk by a U-boat

And the Troy “Times” of February 6, 1918 reported that the “SS Tuscania”, a liner of the British Cunard Line being used as a troop transport, was sunk by a German U-Boat off Scotland’s Isle of Islay. The ship carried about 2,000 US troops, mostly Engineers, and a crew of about 400. 210 men drowned, and were buried in various small towns on the Scottish coast, where their bodies had washed up. My research shows that at least three more troop transports were sunk in 1918, each with small loss of life. But the bottom line was that virtually all of the US Army reached France, ensuring the defeat of Germany by the Allies.

I will close this chapter of the history of my town and its men in World War I here. The people on the home front were definitely affected by the war by March of 1918, one hundred years ago. There were voluntary restrictions on what they ate. They had bought war stamps and bonds. They were attending fund raisers for supplies for the troops. Some workers had missed work when factories closed during the coal crisis.  And they were seeing their friends, neighbors, and sometimes their sons, go off to train for war. As yet, just a few U.S. soldiers were in harm’s way. In a few months, I will relate the events of the months when U.S. troops were fighting fiercely, up to the Armistice on November 11, 1918.

 

 

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.

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.

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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.