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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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, 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.
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.
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.