History of the Town of Schaghticoke

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

Monthly Archives: April 2014

Munson Smith: Discovery of an Important Man in Schaghticoke

The more I research and write about the history of the town of Schaghticoke, the more I wrestle with what is important to know….. We tend to read books about the big events: the wars, the important laws and their results, great movements, etc., and the important people: Presidents and Kings, Generals, dictators, etc. But I keep coming back to the individuals whose actions make up the events, whose support lets the important people lead. I find history at the very local level to be fascinating, and I guess the basis of this column is that I hope you do too.
Recently I wrote about the entries in the New York State Gazetteers of 1813 and 1824 for Schaghticoke, and concluded that a man named Munson Smith contributed at least some of the information to the author of the book. I decided to see if I could find out more about this man. Fortunately he had an unusual first name to go along with Smith, so he stands out. Unfortunately I can’t find out as much about him as I would like, but surprisingly, I did find out a lot.
Munson Smith was born October 7, 1775. I don’t know where and I don’t know who his parents were. I don’t believe he was born in Schaghticoke, however. While there were several Smiths in town at the time he was born, there were none in the 1790 and 1795 censuses. The first time I found Munson in local records was when he married Fannie Masters at the Schaghticoke Dutch Reformed Church on June 18, 1800. This was the only mention of either of them in the records of that church, but Fannie’s uncle Josiah and his wife had had a child baptized there in 1798, so the Masters were at least familiar with the church. The only other choice of church in town at the time would have been the Lutheran. Shortly after, the new family was captured by the 1800 census, with a family of one male 17-26, and one female 17-26, plus one male 27-44. Who was that older man? A brother of Munson? Impossible to know.
While I don’t know where Munson came from or anything about his early life and education, I feel he must have received more than a grade school education, just from the positions he held in his life. I do know that he married into one of the most prominent families in Schaghticoke. As I have written in this space before, the Masters came from Fairfield, Connecticut in 1783: father James, plus a grown family of five children and their spouses, well-off and educated people. Fanny was born in 1782 to James Shelton and Mehitable Allen Masters. I have written a lot about James’ brothers Josiah, who went to Yale, served as a U.S. Congressman, and Nicholas, who was instrumental in founding the Schaghticoke Powder Mill. James certainly was a farmer, and probably involved in the powder mill with his brothers. In any event, he was well-off. Sadly, his wife Mehitable died at age 37, just a few months after Fanny and Munson got married in 1800. I would like to think that Munson also came from Connecticut and knew the Masters family there, explaining how he married into such a prominent family, or that perhaps he had gone to college with Josiah, but I just don’t know.

Munson threw himself into his new community and politics. In 1805 he was secretary of the group which met to organize the new Presbyterian Church and went on to be a trustee. His in-laws, the Masters, were also involved in the organization of the church. By 1807, at age 32, he was elected Supervisor of the town, serving until 1811. This election at such an early age and so soon after arriving in town also make me think that Munson was well-educated and knew the Masters before he came to town. At the time, most men served just one or two years, so this tenure was unusual. He also served from 1814-1815 and in 1824. He alternated being supervisor with Herman Knickerbacker, who served from 1805-1806, in 1813, and from 1818-22. Herman was a U.S. Congressman from 1809-1811. He was a Federalist at the time, so perhaps he and Munson, a Democratic-Republican, ran against each other for the supervisor job a couple of times. Records don’t survive to show. But the men were definitely friends despite their political differences, as will be clear later.
In addition Munson was a school commissioner and inspector in the town. In 1809, while he was Supervisor the first time, he ran as a Republican for the New York State Assembly. While he polled more votes than his Federalist opponent in Schaghticoke and Pittstown, he was defeated overall in the district. He shared his political views with his –in-laws, the Masters. He was listed as a Captain in the 86th Militia Regiment in 1810. All men were and are in the militia from age 18-45, so it is not unusual that he was in the militia, but it is that he was a Captain. I do not know if he participated in the War of 1812 at all.
Munson became Postmaster of Schaghticoke in 1812, a political appointment for sure, and served until at least 1817 in that position. He was Secretary of a meeting of Rensselaer County Republicans in 1813, convened to endorse the candidates for election, including Daniel Tompkins for Governor, and of another meeting of representative Republicans from the whole Eastern District in 1817. I feel this selection indicates both his education, his power, and that he was respected in the area. Munson was named a judge of Rensselaer County in 1815. I don’t know how long he served, but for the rest of his life he was often referred to as “Judge Smith.” He ran again and this time was elected to the N.Y.S. Assembly in 1818. At the time, it was usual for men to serve just one or two terms, then return home, not making a career of the legislature as is often done today.
Meanwhile, Munson also got involved in business. In 1810 he became one of the first directors of the new Rensselaer Woolen and Cotton Manufacturing Company, located on the falls of the Hoosic River at the new village of Schaghticoke. That was never a successful venture, so probably not a source of any income for him, but his position is further evidence of his local prominence. He also had to have had some money to invest. One wonders if the Masters were also interested in being involved through him as a son-in-law. And for at least a short time, Munson became a mill operator. In 1818 he leased the grist and saw mills from the Rensselaer Woolen and Cotton Manufacturing Company for a year. As I said, the company, which included woolen, cotton, and linen mills, was not successful. Before it was sold in 1821, various people leased sections of it. The lease entitled Munson to use of the grist and saw mills, and mill yard. He would keep the mill flume and tub wheel in order and the company would maintain the dam. Another man leased the mill the following year, so this was not a long-term commitment by Munson.
Personally this was also a busy time for Munson. He and Fannie had a daughter Caroline before 1805. I have not been able to find her birthdate. Son Edwin was born in 1805 and daughter Frances or Fanny Matilda in 1807. Mother Fannie died in 1807 at age 25, perhaps because of complications of the birth? She is buried in the Masters Cemetery. Munson remarried, and it must have been very soon thereafter, to a woman named Charity, as daughter Sarah Masters was born in 1808. I would love to know Charity’s maiden name, but I have not been able to discover it. Daughter Ann Hull was born in 1809. The 1810 U.S. Census recorded the Smith family including 1 male under 10 and 4 females under 10, plus the parents- one male aged 26-44 and one female aged 26-44, plus an older man- over 45, and one slave. So Munson pressed on in many directions in life- politics, industry, the military, government, while fathering five children in ten years, losing one wife and marrying a second. The death of Fanny did not sever his relationship with the wealthy and influential Masters family. Of course his older children were Masters grandchildren. He acted as one of the appraisers of the large estate of Josiah Masters when he died unexpectedly in 1822. And he was a life-long friend of Nicholas Masters.
The 1820 U.S. Census showed the Smith family with just one male, 16-25, presumably son Edwin; and one male 26-44, Munson; plus one female under 10, Ann; 2 females from 10-15- there should have been three- and one female from 26-44, Charity. The family also had one free colored male from 14-25, 1 free colored female from 26-44, and one female slave under 14. This was the period of gradual emancipation of slaves, which ended in 1827. Two people were engaged in commerce- Munson and Edwin. That same year Munson purchased pew 20 in the new Presbyterian Church for $35. Pew 19 was purchased by Philip and pew 21 by Ebenezer Smith. Who were they? I don’t know about Philip, but Ebenezer appears in the 1820 census for Schaghticoke as a male over 45, living with just his wife, also over 45. He was engaged in manufacturing. I was hoping to find that Ebenezer and Munson were related, but the will of Ebenezer, who died in 1841, does not mention him at all. Ebenezer’s relatives were mostly in Edgartown, on Martha’s Vineyard. Smith is a very common surname, after all.
Munson and his wives did not have their children baptized at the Presbyterian Church, according to the records, but they were born very early in the history of the church, which began in 1803, so perhaps the records just do not survive. We know from his will that he retained his pew until his death, and purchased the other two Smith pews at some point. The Presbyterian Church was certainly that of the newcomers to town, and of the manufacturers. Munson and family attended church with the Masters, the Briggs, and the Mathers. In 1830, Munson was also a subscriber to the building of the new Methodist Church in the village, a wise move for a businessman.
I do not know where or if son Edwin Smith attended school beyond the local elementary schools, but Munson’s daughters all attended the prestigious and exclusive Troy Female Seminary, now Emma Willard School. Caroline, misnamed Catherine in the book “Emma Willard and her Pupils”, attended Mrs. Willard’s first school, in Waterford, then moved to the new “seminary” in Troy. Fanny Matilda “entered the Seminary” in 1822, Ann Hull attended in 1824, and Sarah Masters in 1824 and 1825. Ann died in 1832 and is buried in the Masters Cemetery. Caroline married Lewis B. Goodsell, a merchant of Cooperstown, in 1834. He was born in 1798 in Connecticut. Did Munson know his parents already? They moved to Chicago by 1839, then to Geneva, Wisconsin. They had two sons, one named Munson. Fanny did not married and lived on in Schaghticoke until her death of tuberculosis in 1885. Sarah married Tibbits Briggs, local merchant and industrialist, in 1830. This united Munson with another prominent local family. Tibbits’ brother Amos Briggs, in partnership with Richard Hart of Troy, owned most of the village of Schaghticoke. Sarah and Tibbits also had a son named Munson.
Munson must have been very proud of and pleased with his son Edwin. He became a merchant, politician, and office holder. He followed in his father’s footsteps, serving as town supervisor from 1836-1837, and postmaster in at least 1862. He was also town clerk in 1842. I believe that Munson first married a woman named Elsie, 1806-1835, who has a tombstone in the lot with him. In 1837 he married Charlotte Buel. She was born in Medford, Massachusetts, but lived with her uncle David Buel, a very prominent attorney and judge in Troy, while attending the Troy Female Seminary (Emma Willard School), beginning in 1823. Undoubtedly, Edwin met her through one of his sisters, who attended at the same time.
He was a delegate to both the Rensselaer County Democratic Republican and Whig Conventions in 1840. Perhaps through the influence of his brother-in-law Tibbits Briggs, Edwin was one of the first vestrymen of the new Episcopal Church in the village of Schaghticoke in 1846. Tibbits was a church warden. But in 1858, he and Charlotte joined the Presbyterian Church, the church of his father and mother. They had eight children
I found an ad in the “Troy Daily Whig” in 1846, dissolving the partnership of James G. Gordon, Edwin Smith, and Horton Ensign in Schaghticoke. Gordon and Smith would continue to both cast and sell all kinds of ironwork, including ploughs and all kinds of stoves. This is the only indication I have at this point of the type of business which Edwin had, and I had never read before of any iron being cast in Schaghticoke.
Returning to father Munson, he remained active in politics and business until his death in 1842. He was one of four delegates in Rensselaer County to the district convention of Republicans in Albany in 1833. In 1835 he was one of the directors (along with Bethel Mather and Amos Briggs) of the Rensselaer and Washington McAdam Road Company, applying to the N.Y.S. Legislature for an amendment to its charter to extend the time of completion for the road. In 1839, he was a delegate to a Railroad Convention called by Richard P. Hart of Troy in Saratoga, planning how all of the Eastern counties of the state would communicate to facilitate the construction of railroads. One of their concerns was how much or little the state government should be involved in the financing of the new railroads: such a modern-sounding concern.
In the 1840 census for the village of Schaghticoke, I found Munson living next door to two other very prominent citizens, Amos Briggs and Charles B. Stratton. His family was now reduced to 1 male from 15-20- I don’t know who that would be- plus himself- one male from 60-70, wife Charity- one female from 50-60, unmarried daughter Fanny- one female from 30-40, and 1 free colored female, aged 10-24- certainly a house servant. Also in 1840, Munson met with other Democratic Republicans in town to nominate candidates, and was named a member of the central committee. The “Troy Budget” published an ad numerous times in 1840 for the Troy Insurance Company, which had had a fire in its office and wanted to reassure its clients that it was very much in business. Munson was a director of the company. This is further evidence of Munson’s prominence in the wider community- and of his sources of income.

Munson died in 1842 and is buried in the Masters Cemetery with his first wife, Fanny. I could not find her tombstone, but the cemetery is very overgrown. Son Edwin and brother-in-law Nicholas Masters, who was called “friend” in the will, were executors, with witnesses William P. Bliss, who ran the powder mill, and Merritt Wickes. Munson left one-half of his house and furniture each to his wife Charity and unmarried daughter Frances. Charity specifically had the use of their north bedroom and its furniture, and was forbidden to sell the furniture. Each was also to receive one half of the income of the house and lot occupied by Dr. J.C. Crocker, and of the building occupied by Wickes and Stratton, and Masters, Swift, and Company as a store and office, plus one-half of his share of the tolls of the Schaghticoke Bridge Company. Frances was also to receive the bond and mortgage which Munson held against John Brislaw, amounting to $400, now due. Frances and Charity also received all “wood, meat, provisions and fuel” in Munson’s possession for use of the family.
After Charity’s death, her half would go to Munson’s friend Nicholas Masters, for him to hold in trust for Munson’s daughter Caroline, married to Lewis Goodsell and living in Chicago. If Caroline happened to die before her husband, Nicholas would use the proceeds to educate her children, or if they were too old, then divide the money among the children. Lewis did die in 1852, leaving Caroline with two young sons: Munson Smith, age 16, and Henry, age 13, so presumably this provision of the will could apply. Unfortunately, I do not know when widow Charity died, nor where she is buried. I think she died before 1850, as Fanny lived alone in the village in that census, next door to Norman Briggs, another brother of her brother-in-law Tibbits. Caroline lived on until 1896.
Son Edwin and daughter Sarah, married to Tibbits Briggs, were to receive Munson’s farm “north of the village,” and “my village lot, formerly owned by Nathaniel Rounds as a grocery store- now occupied by Hugh Brown,” also the lot and building formerly of Zephaniah Russell and now a blacksmith shop on the west side of the street near the east end of the bridge.” After the death of Charity, Edwin and Sarah would also receive the income of the lot of Dr. Crocker.
The rest of the estate was to be divided equally among the children. At the end of the will, Munson notes that Charity could only receive her share of the bridge tolls if she forgave Nicholas Masters the $500 promissory note she held against him. This indicates that Charity must have had some income of her own. One wonders if this provision was suggested to Munson by Nicholas, who was probably present when he made his will in June 1842. Munson also gave one of his pews (Numbers 19, 20, and 21) in the Presbyterian Church to son Edwin, one to Charity, who must reserve a place for Frances, and asked that the third be sold. At the time of his death, Munson’s friend Nicholas Masters and fellow businessman Amos Briggs were both trustees of the church.
The frustrating part of this will is that we don’t find out how much money Munson had! It’s the “residue” of the estate. But from a historical point of view, we learn that he was a partner in the bridge company, along with at least Amos Briggs- I already knew that- , that he owned not only his own home, but also a farm and four other lots with commercial buildings in the village: the Doctor’s home and office, the store and office of Wickes, etc., a blacksmith shop, and the grocery store. Dr. Crocker must not have stayed long in town- he does not appear in the 1850 census. I don’t believe that Wickes and Stratton was a long-lived firm. While both Merrit Wickes and Charles Stratton were listed as “merchants” in the 1850 census for Schaghticoke, Wickes was a farmer by 1855. Masters and Swift was the Powder Mill. Perhaps it had a separate office in the village, away from the manufacturing activity. Nicholas Masters was in partnership with Wyatt Smith. Both men were very close to Munson. Hugh Brown was an Irish butcher. There is no John Brislaw in the census, but there is John Brisland, a tailor. The will gives us a small snapshot of the vibrant businesses in the full-service village of Schaghticoke in 1840: store, business office, butcher, grocery, tailor, doctor, blacksmith- just from these few sentences.
The other part of the will is the probate file, which includes an inventory of his estate, made by Ira Gifford, a wealthy farmer, and Wyatt Smith, powder company executive. The inventory of nine pages reveals the Victorian home of a well-off family, with household furnishings of all sorts. The most expensive items on the list are “1 mantle Time Piece and Shade” valued at $25, a “carpet in north room” valued at $30, and a “Brussels carpet”, valued at $25. The home was carpeted throughout, including the stairs, and the furnishings included mahogany chairs, a “claw foot mahogany table,” a maple bedstead, a cherry stand, a settee and cushion, a sofa, sideboard, rocking chair, 12 cane-bottom chairs, a bureau (what my grandmother called a dresser), and several looking glasses. We learn that the house was heated with stoves, as the inventory includes six; and that the windows had inside shutters.

astral lamp
There were several lamps listed, including an “astral lamp and mat.” An astral lamp was “an Argand lamp so constructed that no interruption of the light upon the table is made by the flattened ring-shaped reservoir containing the oil.” The lamp burned whale or some sort of vegetable oil. So this was a house lit by lamps, not candles. There were many types of dishes, including 29 green and purple edged plates, plus specialized dishes and utensils such as a gravy boat, fruit dishes, custard cups, a cake dish, a dozen cut glass tumblers, cut glass wine and champagne glasses, ivory handled silverware, silver spoons of all sorts, breakfast dishes, and a Brittania coffee pot. There are two types of Brittania, one is silver, the other an alloy of tin, similar to pewter. I’m not sure which this would have been.
Other insights into the Smiths’ lives may come from the gilt spittoon- did Munson chew tobacco or was that for visitors-, traveling trunk- indicative of business or vacation travel-, 10 wine bottles- they were certainly not tee totallers-, and the “kitchen bedstead” -was that as part of a sick room? Or where the servant slept, handy to tend the fire? The list also included Munson’s pew in the Presbyterian Church, valued at $26, and 2 shares in the Schaghticoke Point Library Association worth $2.50. The latter is the first I have ever heard of a library in town. Munson’s wearing apparel was valued at just $21, and not itemized.
In the barn were a barouche, valued at $150 and a “pleasure double sleigh,” valued at $32. According to Wikipedia, a barouche was “a four-wheeled, shallow vehicle with two double seats, so that the sitters on the front seat faced those on the back seat. It had a soft collapsible half-hood folding like a bellows over the back seat and a high outside box seat in front for the driver. The entire carriage was suspended on C springs. It was drawn by a pair of high-quality horses and was used principally for leisure driving in the summer.” This means the Smiths were driven by a coachman. The barn contained basic tools, like a pitchfork and an axe, plus a gun, “a fowling piece,” valued at $3. In the midst of the list was an old map of the U.S., worth 50 cents.
Munson had an office, though it’s not clear if it was in the house, the barn, or a separate building. The furnishings are indicated as belonging in the office, which also included a library with 5 volumes of “Burrows Reports,” 4 of Blackstone, and one of the laws of New York, among other business-related books. Sir James Burrows was an 18th century legal reporter in England, who wrote “Reports of Cases Argued and Adjudged in the Court of Kings Bench, a foundation work in the law. Sir William Blackstone wrote “Commentaries on the Laws of England” from 1765-1769, another foundation work of the American legal system. I’m not sure if this indicates that Munson was in fact educated as a lawyer, or is a consequence of his service as a judge. Whichever, he certainly took his jobs related to the law seriously.
Later in the inventory, the rest of his library is listed. It is varied, including an 8-volume history of England, a book of Martyrs, a 2-volume history of the U.S. by Pitkin, 2 volumes of Newton Prophecies, and 3 volumes of Malte- Brun Geography, in sheets. I did not realize that Sir Isaac Newton did a lot of interpretation of the Bible, which resulted in publications after his death. Conrad Malte-Brun published a geography of the U.S. in 1827. Munson also had two books of true adventure: the narrative of Schoolcraft’s travels through the Northwest U.S. in 1820, published in Albany, plus that of Captain Riley, who was shipwrecked off Morocco in 1815 and traveled across Africa with his crew. His narrative was called “Sufferings in Africa,” published in 1817.

illustration from "Sufferings in Africa"

illustration from “Sufferings in Africa”

On the financial side, Munson was owed about $6,000. Most of that was due from Herman Knickerbacker, a great guy but a lousy businessman. Munson, and Herman’s former law partner Job Pierson held the mortgage on his house. Munson’s half of that was $2253. Herman died in 1855, and the property was foreclosed upon. He also owed Munson about $2000 otherwise. Munson also had 20 shares in stock in the Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad Company, valued at $2000, and 4 shares in the stock of the Schaghticoke Point Bridge Company, valued at $2400. The bridge across the Hoosic River was a toll bridge.
At the end of the inventory, the appraisers set apart “sundries ..for use of widow.” These included a dining table, 6 silver place settings, 6 gilt-edged cups and saucers, a Brittania tea pot, 6 mahogany chairs, a tin tea canister, two stoves- one in the kitchen, and one Franklin stove-. fire place tools, a water pail, a coffee mill, plus 1 Quarto Bible (indicating it was about a foot tall), 2 volumes of Locke’s essays, and LaFayette’s memoirs. If these were favorite books of Charity Smith, she was an intellectual. In his “Essays,” John Locke, 17th century British philosopher wrote of his philosophy of mind and thought. And the LaFayette was a new book. The Marquis de Lafayette, famous for his help to the American army in the Revolution, died in 1834, and his memoirs were published in English in 1837.
Three of Munson’s children, Edwin, Fanny, and Sarah, continued on in Schaghticoke. As I wrote earlier, Edwin followed in his father’s footsteps as businessman and politician. The 1850 census shows Edwin and wife Charlotte with children Ann H., 8; Charlotte B., 7; Elizabeth, 5; Lucretia, 4; and Ester, 2. By 1855, Ester is called Nancy, and the family has added son Edwin N., then 2. In each census, they had an Irishwoman in the family as a servant. In 1855, Sarah Harwood, a 39-year-old teacher, lived with the family. The 1860 census listed Edwin as a 55-year-old merchant, with no personal or real estate listed. Wife Charlotte, 49, had a personal estate of $500 and real estate of $600. Daughters Ann, 19; Charlotte, 17; Margaret E. (Elizabeth?), 15; and Lucretia, 13, were still at home. One source I found said they had eight children, but the census is too infrequent to reveal the truth. That is found in Smith plot at Elmwood Cemetery. It contains tombstones with no dates for “Little Eddie,”, “Little Nannie,” and “Baby Lucy,” plus Edwin E., who died in 1846 at age 6. So there were two Eddies, one who died even younger than six, and the 2-year-old Eddie of the 1855 census. The plot also includes M. Elizabeth, 1843-1910. This accounts for five of the Smith children. The LDS records also includes a Miss Chloe Smith, 1804-1851 in the plot. Who was she?
Edwin Sr., died in 1863. The 1870 census found Charlotte Smith, Edwin’s widow, living at the corner of River and Pinewoods Road, with an estate of $1200. Daughters Charlotte, a 26-year-old music teacher; and Lizzie, a 24-year-old school teacher, lived with her, as did her sister-in-law, Fannie, age 63, with an estate of $9000. According to the Presbyterian Church records and her tombstone, Charlotte, Sr., died in 1874. The 1880 census found aunt Fannie as the head of the household, in the village of Schaghticoke, with nieces Charlotte and Lizzie, still unmarried, and still teaching. Fannie died in 1885, and is in the family plot in Elmwood.
Sarah, who married Tibbits Briggs, was the other local daughter of Munson. Tibbits’ older brother Amos, was the wealthiest man in town for part of the 19th century, before dying impoverished. Amos helped Tibbits invest in and begin a couple of textile mills, but the ventures eventually ended in failure. The 1850 census showed that aspect of Tibbits’ career, as it listed him, at age 48, as a manufacturer with an estate of $4000. The family included wife Sarah, 42, two daughters, and the same school teacher who lived with Edwin and family five years later. By the 1855 census, Tibbits was a merchant. His family included daughters Sarah, 22; Fanny, 18; and son Munson, 16, a clerk. The 1860 census found the family living in the village of Schaghticoke, next door to his brother Pardon. Pardon was a cotton manufacturer and Tibbits a linen thread manufacturer. Children Sarah and Munson still lived at home. Munson registered for the Civil War draft in 1863, but did not serve.
By 1865, Munson Briggs was out on his own, a 26-year-old linen manufacturer, with wife Emma, 26, and daughter Emma, 1 3/12 years old. Tibbits and wife Sarah now lived alone, he still listed with an estate of $6000, with an occupation of manufacturer. By 1870 Tibbits was again a flax manufacturer, with an estate of $14,500, and unmarried daughter Sarah, now 38, lived with him and wife Sarah, but Munson was now merely a worker in the woolen mill, and he and his family shared a house with another family. As of the 1880 census, Munson and Emma were still in the village of Schaghticoke. He was an overseer in the new linen mill. Three of their children lived with them: Emma, 16; Howard M., 11, and baby Norman, 4. At some point, daughter Sarah married James G. Stafford.
To finish the story, Tibbits Briggs died of tuberculosis in September 1874, just a few months after his brother Amos, and is buried in Elmwood Cemetery, and Sarah Masters Smith Briggs died in New York City in 1890 at the home of one of her daughters. Munson Briggs’s wife Emma died in 1884 at age 45 of consumption, and he died of lung disease at the Marshall Infirmary in Troy in 1897, at age 58. Both are buried in Elmwood Cemetery. The interment records state that they lived in Lansingburgh at the time of their deaths. This means that Munson would have been left with an 8-year-old son when Emma died.
I would love to know if my conclusions about the life of Munson Smith are close to fact in any way. I feel he came here with an education, perhaps as a lawyer, from New England. He may have been from Connecticut like the Masters, allowing him an entrée to that family and qualifying him for marriage to a daughter of the family. Though his wife died young, he maintained his connection with the family through his life. He sent his daughters to the area’s most prestigious girls’ school. Through the marriage of his daughter Sarah, he also became aligned with a second very influential family in town, the Briggs. He was involved in all aspects of his community, quickly elected Supervisor of the town, then going on to County and State offices and offices in political parties; joining the militia; supporting its churches; investing in its industries; lending money to its most famous citizen, Herman Knickerbacker. He lived in a modern home, updated with the latest conveniences, and owned at least four other lots with businesses in the village of Schaghticoke, along with a farm and shares in the local toll bridge and the speculative Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad. He remained enmeshed in it all right up to his death.

Federal censuses for Schaghticoke: 1790-1900; NYS censuses: 1855, 1865
Sylvester, Nathaniel; “History of Rensselaer County,” 1880.
Rensselaer County probate files: in Rensselaer County Historical Society
Rensselaer County wills- in County Courthouse
“Troy Daily Whig” Nov 17, 1835; Aug 1839, July 1840; Sept 1840; 1846; 1855
“Troy Budget” June 20, 1834,March 20, 1840, April 1840
“Albany Argus” 1817, 1833, Dec. 27, 1835, May 15, 1830, April 1813
“Emma Willard and her Pupils”
Schaghticoke cemetery records; records of the Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed churches
Anderson, George, “Landmarks of Rensselaer County” , 1897

Schaghticoke in 1824

The last post analyzed the entry for Schaghticoke in Horatio Spafford’s 1813 “Gazetteer of New York.” Mr. Spafford, strapped for money, had ambitions to write many more Gazetteers, covering a wider geographical area, but was only able to produce one other edition, another New York Gazetteer in 1824. He died in 1832 and is buried in the cemetery of the Lutheran Church in Lansingburgh, NY.
As one would expect, much of what Spafford published in 1824 was a duplicate of the 1813 edition. Things such as history and land types would be unchanged, one would think, but let’s see what had changed in the entry for Schaghticoke. To begin with, Schaghticoke was now 16 rather than 20 miles from Albany, though still 10 miles north of Troy. My GPS tells me that it’s 19 miles from Schaghticoke to Albany, though who knows where the measurements would begin or end, then or now.
Spafford caught one major change in the town…its boundaries. As he wrote, “In March of 1819 a strip of land across the S. end of this town was annexed to Lansingburgh, bounded N. by the Deepy Kill (sic), a small brook, now the line between this town and Lansingburgh, the transferred territory being as near as I can find out, about 2 miles wide.” This is true. As I have written before, I have been unable to discover why this alteration was made. It lasted until 1912, when the boundaries were restored.
Spafford paid very close attention to details, as in 1813 he consistently referred to the Hoosic River as “Hoosac creek”, but now more correctly calls it “Hoosac River.” He still mis-locates the village of Schaghticoke at the “mouth” of the Hoosac River, but has increased its size, from 15 to 25 houses. He still reports three churches, with 2 Reformed Dutch- incorrect. There were still a Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Dutch Reformed Church in town. In 1813 he described that some land was held by leases, and he repeats that statement, which I now think would be incorrect. I believe the leases of the land owned by the city of Albany were all converted to ownership by 1824. He also makes an unfortunate typographical error. The 1813 version correctly stated that European families first settled Schaghticoke in the early 18th century; the 1824 edition makes that the 16th century, very incorrect, and potentially very confusing to the reader.
As in 1813, Spafford reported the population statistics for the town. I believe he got the data from the U.S. Census of 1820. Unfortunately, the totals reported for the town are very faint in the online version, but a few of the numbers match up with the 1824 Gazetteer, hence my conclusion. The 1820 census added a bit more information, and Spafford included that: “Population 2522; 579 farmers, 8 traders, 153 mechanics; 10 foreigners; 37 free blacks, 59 slaves.” The number of farmers is actually 597 on the census, the number just transposed. The 8 “traders” were described on the census as “engaged in commerce,” which would imply storekeepers more than traders to me. The 153 mechanics were described as “engaged in manufacture,” which would include men who owned and worked in mills of different kinds. It is difficult to compare these numbers to the 1813 Gazetteer, as the town was now physically smaller. But to me the fact that the town still had a slightly higher population total in 1820 (2522 to 2492) means that it was still growing quite rapidly. Also, the drop from 94 to 59 slaves shows that gradual emancipation was still proceeding. It was to be complete in 1827.
The Schaghticoke entry continued, reporting “ taxable property $456228; 11 schools, 11 months in 12; $394.34;762;633; 475 electors, 14864 acres improved land, 2412 cattle, 546 horses, 4765 sheep; 17816 yards cloth; 3 grist mills, 6 saw mills, 2 fulling mills, 2 carding machines, 2 cotton and woolen factories. A.L.C, M.S., D.O.G., B. S.”
Let’s take a closer look at that string of numbers. I’m not sure of the source of the taxable property number- it was either the 1820 U.S. census or the 1821 N.Y.S. census, which Spafford used for the rest of this entry. Whichever, it is a huge increase over the $302,493 in the 1813 edition, despite the decrease in the size of the town. There were still 11 school houses in town, and the entry reports that students attended 11 months of 12 in the year. I find that astounding, as my previous research has shown that students mostly attended school in the winter months, and certainly never more than nine months of the year.
I looked back at the beginning of the Gazetteer to figure out the next numbers: $394.34;762;633 In 1821 the schools cost $394.34 in public money, and of 762 children in town between the ages of 5 and 15, 633 attended school sometime during the year. From the perspective of 2014, we certainly find the amount of money astonishingly small. To me it seems that the percentage of students attending school was quite high, but who knows how often they attended. Presumably the 129 students who did not attend included a few 5 and 6-year-olds whose parents didn’t want to have them start school yet, but were mostly children over 10 or 12, whose parents needed them to work, either on the farm or in mills for a wage. In my personal research I found that even in the 1870’s many boys attended school in the winter, but didn’t go back for the spring term, when they were needed on the farms. The number of electors had certainly grown a lot from the 229 in the 1813 edition, but that may reflect a change in the voting laws, allowing men with less land to vote.
Just to give a bit of perspective, the Gazetteer reported that the town of Pittstown was quite a bit larger than Schaghticoke, with 3,772 people, with 15 schools and 997 students, 30,838 acres of improved land, about twice as many cattle, horses and sheep, 23 saw mills, and 1 distillery! In 2010, Pittstown had a population of 5,735 and Schaghticoke 7,679. Of course our town is now restored to its pre-1819 borders.
The number of grist and saw mills in Schaghticoke has changed quite a bit from the 1813 Gazetteer: from 12 to 3 grist mills, and 11 to 6 saw mills. A few mills were lost with the reduction in town size, but this may reflect survival of the fittest. The other mills remained the same. I would say that the wool from the almost 5000 sheep certainly provided the raw material to the woolen mills.
As before, the initials at the end of the article are the contributors. The last three are the same as in 1813, but A.L.C. is new. There are two candidates for the A.L.C.: Allen Cornell was the Schaghticoke town clerk from 1816-1819 and Allen Conner was the Justice of the Peace beginning in 1823. Cornell seems the better choice, as he would have had access to data. As before, the M.S. was certainly Munson Smith, who was town supervisor during much of the period. The contributors seem to have given very little information to Spafford. For example, the Pittstown entry includes description of types of trees and sheep, and praise for the farmers and mill owners in the town. Spafford didn’t edit to a completely dry account. At the time it probably didn’t seem important to Mr. Smith; it’s only now that we would love to have known more about our town in its early days. Spafford’s list of contributors inspired me to research more about Munson Smith. In the following weeks, I will share the wealth of information that I was surprised to find.

Schaghticoke in 1813, according to Horatio Gates Spafford

When I began writing a newspaper column in September 2010 the idea was to work systematically and chronologically through the history of the town. I got to about 1800 and got distracted by things like the history of the churches, the industrial revolution, the biographies of industrialists, military men, and local Congressmen, the bicentennial of the War of 1812, and primarily by the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. Still to come is a history of the Catholic Church and of schools in town, plus further information on the Civil War- through the whole upcoming year- and the upcoming centennial of World War I. I have done lots of research and writing about Schaghticoke in the 1800’s, and would like to try to draw a portrait of the town as it industrialized and developed in the first quarter of the century.
There are a couple of sources of information for this task: two “Gazetteers of New York” published by Horatio Gates Spafford in 1813 and 1824, and a couple of N.Y.S. Censuses: 1814, 1821, and 1825; and the federal censuses of 1800, 1810, and 1820. As with all sources, these are subject to errors. An extra problem is that, as I have noted before, the boundaries of the town changed in 1819, when the part from the Deep Kill south was taken from Schaghticoke and added to Lansingburgh. This would definitely impact the population and other statistics.
I will quote the whole passage in the 1813 Gazetteer about the town, providing commentary as I go. I have to say that my first inclination was to accept what was written as true, but of course Mr. Spafford’s work would be as subject to errors as anyone else’s. Indeed, from what I have read of him, he was a polymath or Renaissance man, trying to do everything, but without the funds. He was an inventor, geographer and writer, correspondent of Thomas Jefferson. He wanted to publish a Gazetteer for the whole country, but his finances limited him to New York State.
In the introduction, he states that he traveled to some of the more remote counties himself, and had some “Agents” collect material, but that primarily he sent questionnaires to prominent men in each county, town, and hamlet, and used their answers to write his book. Indeed, each section ends with a number of initials, presumably those of the contributors, but I can’t find a list of them in the book. Of course the quality of the material sent in would have varied greatly.
Spafford’s Gazetteer of 1813, entry for Schaghticoke*
(The asterisk sends the reader to this at the bottom of the page:) “This name, so long, crooked and hard that it puzzles every body, is said to have originated with the Mohawk Indians._ The original was Scaugh wank, a name by them applied to a sand-slide of near 200 yards elevation, extending for a considerable distance along the right bank of Hoosac creek, under an angle of about 60 degrees with the horizon. When the Dutch settled here, they added Hook to the name, now Schaghticoke Point.”
Well, this is the only place I have ever seen that talks about this a source of the name Schaghticoke. The Schaghticoke Indians were Mahicans- of the big language group of New England Indians- foes of the Mohawks, part of the Iroquois Confederacy. And I have been told that the word, which is also used by the Schaghticoke Indians near Kent, Connecticut, means something like where the waters mingle. Schaghticoke Point was the first name of the village of Schaghticoke. There is a major bend in the Hoosick River there, just before it goes over the falls, forming a point of land. But, again, according to all my research, this area wasn’t even settled until after the first bridge was put over the river at that point, about 1790. The map of the area of Dutch settlement at Schaghticoke from that time does not include that part of the river, merely noting the presence of the bridge over the river.
Spafford begins this entry:
Schaghticoke, a Post-Township, in the N.W. corner of Rensselaer County, on the E. shore of the Hudson, 10 miles N. of Troy, and 20 from Albany, bounded N. by Washington County, E. by Pittstown, S. by Lansingburgh, W. by the Hudson, or the County of Saratoga. It extends along the Hudson, 11 miles and along the line of Washington county, about 10, in a narrow strip of land formed by the course of Hoosac creek. The surface is moderately uneven, and the soil good for grain and grass. The Schaghticoke flats have long been celebrated for their richness and fertility, and the uplands have a soil of loam and some clay and sand. Hoosac creek, a large mill-stream, receives in this Town Tomhanoc creek, and these supply abundance of mill-seats.
This seems a pretty straight-forward description, interesting to me because of its emphasis on the soils. The “Schaghticoke flats” would be the area around the Knickerbacker Mansion, the first area of European settlement. I know that the soil of my farm has both sand and clay, and almost no rocks. We mostly don’t think of the Hoosic River and Tomhannock Creek in terms of their usefulness for water power for mills- but 1813 was the beginning of the industrial age in upstate New York, and it focused on sources of water power.
At the mouth of the Hoosac creek is a small village called Schaghticoke-Point, consisting of 15 houses; and here is the Post-Office, 20 miles north of Albany. It is situated in the N.W. corner of the town; and in the S. part, on the Northern turnpike, is another small village called Speigle-Town. The Northern turnpike from Lansingburgh to the N.E. part of Washington County, and another road of considerable travel to Whitehall, lead through this Town, besides many other common and very good roads.
This section confirms the small size of the new village of Schaghticoke, located where the new bridge crosses the Hoosic River. However, to me the mouth of a river is where it enters a larger body of water, and the village is certainly not at the mouth of the Hoosic, which would be where it enters the Hudson River. Spafford also calls our attention to Speigle-Town, located on the Northern Turnpike, at the junction of that turnpike with the road to Vermont, now Fogarty Road, and establishes it as the only other node of settlement in the town. I’m not sure what road he means led to Whitehall, which is in the same direction as Granville, the end of the Northern Turnpike.

He continues…
There are 3 houses of worship: 2 Reformed Dutch, and a Presbyterian; and 11 school-houses- There are 12 grain mills, 11 saw mills, an oil-mill, fulling-mill, and 2 carding machines; and 2 companies are incorporated for manufacturing purposes, one for cotton and the other for linen, and their works are probably in operation at this time.
There were three churches in town at the time, but one was Dutch Reformed, one Lutheran, and one Presbyterian. The town had just been divided into eleven school districts by the new New York State school law, so that part of the entry is correct. As for eleven “grain” or grist mills, I have found there was one grist mill on the Deep Kill, at the border with the town of Pittstown; and three on the Tomhannock: one near where Route 40 crosses it, and two on Buttermilk Falls Road, one by the falls where the road crosses and another on what is now the Denison Farm. There was one on a stream north of the Hoosic River, and three at various places in the gorge of the Hoosic at the village of Schaghticoke. That adds up to eight.
Moving on to saw mills, I have found mention of one on the Deep Kill; one on a small stream emptying into the Hudson just south of Hemstreet Park; two on the Tomhannock, one near where it passes under Route 40 and one near the Denison Farm on Buttermilk Falls Road; one on the Wampanaconk near where it enters the Hoosic, up Masters Street; and one on the Hoosic at the village. That adds up to just six. I would say that saw mills can/could be very short-lived enterprises, very subject to availability of timber and to fire. They could also be seasonal, operating just in the spring, when a small stream would have enough water to run a mill. They could have missed documentation by the historians. Also, there were a keg mill and a turning mill on the Tomhannock, which could have been labelled saw mills, I suppose, as they both dealt in wood.
An oil mill processed flax seed, producing hard cakes, which were broken up for animal feed, and oil, used in both food and industry. The only oil mill I have heard of in connection with Schaghticoke was in the southern part of town- its name remains on the section of road known as “Oil Mill Hill.” The other mills Spafford mentions were at the new village of Schaghticoke. There were certainly a carding machine or two, which helped prepare raw wool for spinning, and a fulling mill, which did final processing of woolen cloth woven by hand. And Spafford implies that the cotton and linen factories were begun, but maybe not operating yet. According to what I have read, they were in operation by 1813. Spafford does not mention the machine shop, in operation as early as 1800, or a bellows factory on the Tomhannock, in operation as early as the Revolution. There was also the Farmers Manufacturing Company, which aimed to manufacture “woolen, cotton, and linen goods, … glass, and from ore, bar iron, anchors, mill-irons, steel, nail rods, hoop iron, (and other iron goods).” This enterprise did not succeed, but was in business at the time of the Gazetteer, as were several flax mills- not to make cloth but to process the flax grown, and a factory which spun thread from cotton.
So Spafford got some things right, but missed others.

He concluded:
The lands are held by different tenures, some in fee, some by permanent, and some by temporary leases. In 1810 the whole taxable property was $302,493, $32,294 of which was personal property; the whole population was 2492, including 94 slaves, and there were 229 senatorial electors. About the commencement of the 18th century some German and Dutch families settled on the rich alluvial lands of this Town, then occupied by a clan of the Mohawk Indians. M.S, D.O.G., & B.S.
Well, Spafford was correct that some Dutch families rented land beginning at the start of the 1700’s. They rented land owned by the city of Albany up until just about the time Spafford was writing his Gazetteer, when they got to buy the land. The land was occupied by Schaghticoke Indians, who were most definitely not Mohawks. I am a bit surprised that there was this confusion so close to the time when the Schaghticoke had lived here- 1750- but that may have been a function of who the men were who provided the information. There were German settlers, but they arrived at the time of the Revolution, and bought their land, for the most part.
As to the population and property data, that came directly from the U.S. census of 1810. In 1790, the population had been 1650. In 1814, the population was 2847, an increase of about 400 in just four years. The town was growing fast, to be expected with the beginning of the new nation and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The number of senatorial electors reflects that there was still a property qualification for voting in some elections.
This was the period of gradual emancipation of slaves in New York State. In 1790 there had been 143 slaves in Schaghticoke, but now some had died, and some had been emancipated. In 1790 virtually all the slave owners were descendants of the original Dutch inhabitants of town. In 1810, most of the slave owners were still those folks, most with from one to four slaves, but Nicholas Masters had four slaves, and a man named J. Fish had seven. Congressman Herman Knickerbacker had four and his brothers John and William nine and five slaves respectively. A few men listed one or two slaves and one or two free blacks in their households, including Charles Joy, who was a new mill owner from Boston.
I would love to know who those correspondents were, the M.S., D.O.G., and B.S. who provided the information about Schaghticoke to Horatio Spafford. In the 1810 census, there is one man, B. Sanford, with the intials B.S., and three with the initials D.G.- D.O Gillett actually has all three initials, plus D. Grawbarger and D. Groesbeck. The latter two would have been the descendants of very early Dutch settlers of the town, but I have never heard of Gillett or Sanford- they certainly were not prominent citizens of town. However, though he was not in the census, the M.S. was certainly Munson Smith, who was town supervisor off and on from 1807 through the 1820’s.

What’s in a Name?

This blog post was inspired by my recent reading of the Schaghticoke portion of “Spafford’s Gazetteer of New York of 1824”. I was familiar with the same gentleman’s Gazetteer of 1813, but the 1824 edition was new to me. In the course of finding it online, I discovered that the author’s full name was Horatio Gates Spafford. He was born in Vermont in 1778, just after the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga, where Horatio Gates was the commanding American General. Spafford’s parents were undoubtedly inspired by that event to name their child. In fact, Horatio also named his son, born in 1828, Horatio Gates Spafford.
In the course of my research into town history, I have found many instances of men named for famous people. Peter and Hannah Grant, the parents of local industrialist Isaac Travis Grant, named one of their many sons for their neighbor and U.S. Congressman, Herman Knickerbacker. Isaac and another brother John, named sons for another neighbor and local U.S. Congressman, Job Pierson. Isaac’s partner, Daniel Viall, named a son for Isaac. Many, many local Civil War veterans, men who were born between about 1830 and 1845, were named for Andrew Jackson, George Washington, James Knox Polk, the Marquis de Lafayette, and other prominent statesmen. The attraction of Washington’s name is obvious. Jackson, President from 1829-1837, died in 1845; Polk, President from 1845-1849, died in 1849, and Lafayette, the French aristocrat who helped in the American Revolution, did a “farewell tour” of America in 1824-1825 and died in 1834.
In the course of my twenty years as a high school teacher, I cannot remember a child named for a famous statesman or woman. One of my daughters does have friends who named their daughter Reagan, for the President. How about you? Many children are named for relatives, dead or living. I am named for my great-grandmother, whom I knew as a child. Three of my four daughters have middle names commemorating relatives or friends.
But what about naming for the famous? Does our culture do it anymore? If so, do we name for sports figures? Politicians? Hollywood stars? For our close friends? Whom would we choose and why? Google says that many people don’t name their children for famous people but rather for their children, for example, naming a daughter “Harper” because soccer star David Beckham named his daughter that. And here I would have assumed that “Harper” was for author Harper Lee!
Certainly when we named our children, we knew that their names would forever remind us of their namesakes. Do we have people in our culture that we would wish to remember through our children? Will there be an uptick in babies named “Nelson” after Mandela? That name is #560 on the list of names used in the U.S. last year. Whom would you choose…if anyone? Do we have statesmen and women worthy of emulation? It’s fun to think about.

The Poet and the Church

This was a newspaper column in late December, 2013, hence the choice of poem below. I have been dilatory in updating this blog, but busy writing and researching new things.
Back in the fall, the Melrose Methodist Church celebrated its 160th Anniversary. Thanks to a correspondent, I have more to add to the history of the Church. Christopher Phillipo directed me to the Reverend Joseph C. Booth. He was a Methodist minister, and as was typical of the sect, spent just a couple of years at each church to which he was assigned. Booth was minister at Melrose from just 1912-1913, but must have found something here which attracted him, as when he retired in 1927, it was to Avenue A.
Joseph Booth was born in Gursley, England, about 1864. He attended school there, and emigrated to the U.S. in 1893. Perhaps he had already met his future wife in England, as he married Elizabeth Ambrose, born in Cambridge, England, in 1895, shortly after she emigrated. As I said, Methodist policy was to move its ministers frequently, and move Joseph and Elizabeth did. He was a minister in Redford, near Saranac, NY in 1894, Elizabethtown from 1895-1898; Schuyler Falls from 1899-1900, Chazy from 1900-1905, Warrensburg from 1906-1908, Williamstown, Massachusetts from 1909-1911, Melrose from 1912-1913, Mayfield from 1914-1918, Waterford from 1919-1921, Troy from 1922-1924, and Brandon, Vermont from 1925-1927.
Early in their marriage, Joseph and Elizabeth had a child who died. About 1912, her father, William Ambrose, aged 69, and sister, Sarah, 42, moved in with the couple. Though Joseph and Elizabeth became U.S. citizens in 1911, William and Sarah did not. The 1930 census showed them in retirement in Melrose, owning a home worth $1800, living next door to George Strait, the Methodist minister. The Straits would have lived in what is now the Halloran Home on Avenue A. William was now 84. Elizabeth died in 1936, her obituary reporting that “she had been in ill health for about 42 years.” Shortly after, Joseph married his sister-in-law Sarah. He died in 1942 and she in 1949. All are buried in Elmwood Cemetery, their names on the same stone.
In addition to being a minister, Joseph was a poet. About 1915, The Troy “Times” began to publish his poems. Mr. Phillipo links to about 20 of them on his blog: http://doesnotevenrhyme.blogspot.com. I felt the following poem was particularly appropriate for this time of the year.
“Father Christmas!” by Rev. Joseph C. Booth (1927)

Old Father Christmas, bending ‘neath the weight
Of centuries, comes down his frozen track,
With variegated gifts piled in his pack,
The birthday of the Christ to celebrate.
In honor of this great, eventful date,
Let us, in preparation, show no lack;
Let not our heart be cold, our hands be slack,
But joyfully responsive and elate.
In harmony with God’s stupendous gift,
With self-denying efforts crown the day;
The hungry feed, financial burdens lift
And drive the pangs of poverty away;
Hail, Father Christmas, may thy coming prove
A glad memorial of redeeming love!
Melrose, N. Y.

Troy Times. December 24, 1927: 20 col 2.