History of the Town of Schaghticoke

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

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


27th Division Parade in New York City

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

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

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

4 minute men

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

liberty bonds 2

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

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

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

red cross knitting

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

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

wwi food admin

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

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

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

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

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




Schaghticoke in 1850


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


spinning frame at Lowell

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

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

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

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

thomas ripley

Thomas Ripley

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

troy and boston rr

ad from the Troy “Times” 1852

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

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

plank road

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

john downs hotel 1856

From the 1856 county map

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

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

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

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

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


General Store at Sturbridge Village, Mass.

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

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

charlespickettpickett map

from the 1856 county map

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

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


panning for gold

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

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

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

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

amos briggs farm

from the 1856 county map

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

andersonville ce stratton

grave of Charles Stratton at Andersonville Prison

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

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

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

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

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

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


William VanVeghten attended this church

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

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


sipperly house

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

richard P. Hart

Richard P. Hart, partner of Amos Briggs

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


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



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

briggs mill

from the 1856 county map

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

woolen mill

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

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

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

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























Genealogy Time


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

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

greeley grave 4
And spelling….unless your name is extremely easy, it is sure to have been spelled in various ways over the centuries. It is important to be flexible in your search- especially searching an alphabetical index- look at all the possibilities you can think of, and don’t discard an interesting item because the name is spelled a little differently from yours. In our town we have many Ackerts, Ackarts, Eckerts, for example, and VanVechtens, VanVeghtens, and Pratt, Bratt! We are lots more conscious of spelling than people in previous centuries. I have seen the same person spell his own name in different ways in the same document. Sometimes spelling can be a clue to pronunciation of a name. An 18th century resident of town had the first name Umphry- which was certainly Humphrey. He probably dropped his H’s when he spoke.
Okay, now you have written down what you and your family members already know, or already have in their possession- records, photos, etc. You are ready to move on. Thanks to information placed on the internet by many wonderful people and organizations, family research is much easier than even ten years ago. In addition, information is available in libraries, town and county clerks’ offices, historical societies, churches, cemeteries, the National Archives, and the state departments of health. You may even want to take a class in genealogy. Watch the newspaper for classes at libraries or sponsored by the Daughters of the American Revolution or genealogy societies.

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Farming In Schaghticoke: 1700-1850



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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


flax break

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

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

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

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



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

grain cradle

grain cradle



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

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

hessian fly

Hessian fly- pest of wheat

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

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

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

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

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

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

knickerbocker mansion

Knickerbocker Mansion, home farm of Abraham Knickerbocker

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

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

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

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

fence farmers museum

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

New England Farmer, Vol 18, 1839 p. 56

NYS Census 1855

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

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

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

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

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

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

US Census 1810, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850

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


Give up Demon Drink!!!!



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

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



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

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

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



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



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

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

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

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





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








Schaghticoke in 1840



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

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

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


current photo of the Melrose School on Mineral Springs Road

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

grain cradle

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


perhaps Mrs Robinson made a bit of money spinning yarn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Simon Newcomb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ezekiel continued to be a pillar of our community until his death in 1836. The more I look at early deeds for the town, the more land I see that he owned. For example, the 170 acres of the current Howard Gifford farm was sold by Ezekiel to Josiah Masters before 1815.Of course he continued to appear in the census. Interestingly, in 1810 and 1820, his family included one female slave. I would love to know why Ezekiel and his wife purchased a young black girl (she was from 18-26 in the 1820 census). She remained with the couple in the 1830 census, though by then, of course, she was free.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mando illo (1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Holenbeck or Hornbeck, also black, had a family of four in the 1840 census. He was from 24-35 years of age, his wife the same age range, plus one son and one daughter under 10. There are graves in the old Methodist Cemetery at Schaghticoke Hill- the same cemetery where the Mandos are buried- for Emeline, died May 8, 1847 age 7; and Henry, died May 12, 1847, age 18, both children of James and Susan Hornbeck. What a tragedy for the family. I feel that they moved to Troy soon after.  Though I have not been able to find him in the 1850 or 1860 census, a James Hornbeck is in the Troy City Directory from 1857 on, listed as a porter who lived at 38 Fulton Street. The August 20, 1856 issue of the Troy “Daily Times” reported that James Hornbeck assisted the chairman of a “meeting of colored persons” at the Liberty Street Presbyterian Church in Troy. The meeting discussed propositions for blacks to get to right to vote, among other issues, reporting on a larger convention held recently in Seneca Falls.

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

By the 1870 Troy directory, James had died. Mrs. James Hornbeck lived at 119 Church Street. A Joseph Hornbeck lived in Troy as well. This listing for Mrs James is interesting as an obituary in two local newspapers reported the death of Susan Hornbeck in 1864. A post on the webpage of the Lansingburgh Historical Society quotes:  “A centennarian with ten years to spare, died at Lansingburgh yesterday. Susan Hornbeck, better known as “Aunt Susan,” was her name. She had attained the age of one hundred and ten years. The deceased was a colored woman—born a slave in Saugerties [Ulster County], and held by the family of John Brown in Lansingburgh for many years—only being released when New York became a Free State.”Schenectady Daily Evening Star and Times. April 9, 1864: 3 col 2.
Albany Morning Express. April 11, 1864: 3 col 3.

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

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

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

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

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

astral lamp

astral lamp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plowing-hard work 1830

plowing at the Farmers Museum in Cooperstown

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

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

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

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


flag-bottom chair

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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




Anderson, “History of Rensselaer County”

Baucus, John, probate file, Rensselaer County Historical Society

Bryan, Elijah, probate file, Rensselaer County Historical Society


Gifford, Eliphel, probate file, Rensselaer County Historical Society

Miller, Alexander, probate file

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

Probate files Isaac Tallmadge 158; Henry P.Strunk 137

Robinson, Nathaniel, Revolutionary War pension application

Schaghticoke cemetery records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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















By Rail through Schaghticoke and beyond



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

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

hoosac tunnel map

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


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


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

hoosac tunnel

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

The Next Chapter of the Schaghticoke Powder Mill


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cath rectory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

scoke hill 1856

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

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

Charcoal making

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


Wheel mill

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

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


Reproduction casks of powder at Fort Stanwix

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Riley Loomis

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

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

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

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

riley loomis home

The Loomis “cottage” on Washington Park in Troy

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

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

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

john wentworth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

greeley grave 4                            Greeley Plot in Elmwood Cemetery, Schaghticoke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Albany”Argus”, March 1819, 1863

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

Anderson, George, “Landmarks of Rensselaer County.”

Berkshire “Journal”, 1831

Berkshire “Sun”, 1820

Burlington “Free Press”, Aug 19, 1859

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

Find-a-Grave.com, Chauncey Olds

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

Klopott, Beth, “History of Schaghticoke.”

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

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

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

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

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

Ogdensburg “Journal,” Jan. 17, 1877.

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

Oneida “Morning Herald” Nov 28, 1848

Pittsfield “Sun”, 1854, 1870

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

Rensselaer County deeds, book 48 p 327

Rochester “Republican” Nov 23, 1844

Schaghticoke Presybterian Church records, in historian’s office

St Lawrence County “Republican”, March 1840.

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

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

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

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

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

Utica “Gazette” Nov 12, 1854

Utica “Morning Herald” Oct 24, 1879

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

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

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

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