History of the Town of Schaghticoke

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

Tag Archives: Rensselaer County

Genealogy Time


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Schaghticoke in 1840



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

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

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


current photo of the Melrose School on Mineral Springs Road

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

grain cradle

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


perhaps Mrs Robinson made a bit of money spinning yarn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Simon Newcomb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mando illo (1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

astral lamp

astral lamp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plowing-hard work 1830

plowing at the Farmers Museum in Cooperstown

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

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

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

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


flag-bottom chair

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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




Anderson, “History of Rensselaer County”

Baucus, John, probate file, Rensselaer County Historical Society

Bryan, Elijah, probate file, Rensselaer County Historical Society


Gifford, Eliphel, probate file, Rensselaer County Historical Society

Miller, Alexander, probate file

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

Probate files Isaac Tallmadge 158; Henry P.Strunk 137

Robinson, Nathaniel, Revolutionary War pension application

Schaghticoke cemetery records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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















The Schaghticoke Boys

Several years ago I began researching men with connections to Schaghticoke who served in the U.S. Civil War in honor of the 150th anniversary of that horrible conflict. Before I knew it, I had written 500 pages. This book is now available on the website of the town, somewhat awkwardly, but available. If you go to this link:http://townofschaghticoke.org/content/History and click on the first entry: The Civil War..the book will download in a couple of minutes. The first half talks of men who served in the 125th NY Volunteer Infantry Regiment. It was recruited in Rensselaer County, company K mostly in Schaghticoke. The second half deals with men who served in many other regiments. I have written brief biographies of each. They are listed alphabetically in each section, except that the 125th section begins with the officers, with an index at the end.
This book does not have a bibliography. For the most part, I have listed the sources used within each biography. Much of the information came from the records of New York State, which are online at ancestry.com and the website of the New York State Military Museum. Then I used census, church and other records, both on ancestry.com and familysearch.org as well as in my own files, plus google searches. Sometimes I was able to find photographs. I only used those I had permission to use, or ones that were at the website of the Library of Congress or in general in the public realm.
I have had a wonderful time doing this research, and now that I have declared the book “done”, I have a new source of information thanks to the re-enactment group- the 125th NY- which acquired photos of records in the National Archive. so I have a few more men to add. I know that I could find more info if I ordered the pension files of all of the men, but at $80 apiece, that was not possible for my budget. I hope some readers can learn new information about their ancestors through my research. That, along with honoring the men for their sacrifices, was my goal.

The Recruitment, Departure, and Early History of the 125th NYS Volunteer Regiment-

By summer 1862 it was clear that the Civil War was not going to be over any time soon. It was also clear that many, many men were going to die in the fighting and that more troops were needed. The “Troy Times”, a daily newspaper in the city, had extensive daily updates on the progress of the war and more specifically on the movements of the 2nd New York Infantry, the Troy Regiment.

Regimental Color of the 125th Regiment, thanks to the website of the Division of Military and Naval Affairs

It seems amazing to me that the 125th NYS Volunteers, the Rensselaer County regiment, was recruited and on its way to Virginia in only six weeks that summer. On July 17, an article entitled “Defend the Country, Uphold the Government” appeared. It advertised a patriotic rally to be held the next evening at the courthouse in Troy to begin the recruitment for another local regiment to enter the fight so that “the government may be upheld, the constitution vindicated, the country preserved, the rebellion crushed, and traitors defeated and punished.” Notice that abolishing slavery was not mentioned. That was not a stated goal of the war at the beginning.

This reproduction of a recruiting poster for the 125th was printed at the Farmers Museum in Cooperstown. The sunny South?

An article the next day called the rally “The Great War Meeting,” and reported that doubtless “the towns along the Troy and Boston Railroad will turn out very large delegations” as a special free train just for the purpose had left Petersburgh at 2. This train would have passed through Schaghticoke. And on July 19, the paper reported that 5000 men had attended the rally, so that there was one meeting inside the courthouse, of as many who could fit, and of the “quality” man, and another on the steps outside. Let’s imagine the scene: 5000 men, many young, of all sorts, from many parts of the county, on a hot July evening in the middle of the city of Troy, some jamming the un-air conditioned court house, others gathering around the steps outside, ready for a long evening of inspiring speeches.
The meeting had a formal chairman, one William Kemp, with a vice president from each town. John A Quackenbush, a 31-year old farmer, was the vice-president for Schaghticoke. They adopted a set of resolutions: 1.) that the war should be brought to a speedy end, 2.) that it is a war for preservation and defense, 3.) that there is a need to serve the county and nation, 4.) praising the NYS bounty of $50 offered to each enlistee, 5.) that there is a need to set up recruiting offices and enlist men as soon as possible, and 6.) that Rensselaer County should match the state bounty. The crowd heard a number of people, judges, professors, lawyers, and clergy speak. At one point a heckler in the outdoor meeting called out to them, “why don’t you enlist yourself? The rich should go too!” At 10 p.m. there was music by Jones’ Band and a Colonel Arnold shot off his cannon, “a babywaker.” He left the ramrod in the barrel and it went through the awning and store window of Mr Staude’s Cigar Store – fortunately without hurting anyone

As the month of July went on, towns throughout the county had their own patriotic rallies, designed to encourage new enlistees. Recruiting offices were set up in Troy, and rumors began to fly about who the Colonel of the new regiment would be. Various men advertised themselves as Captains of companies in the new regiment, and offered various bounties. On July 24 there was a meeting of those authorized to recruit for the new regiment, including John VW Vandenburgh and McGregor Steele for Schaghticoke. The night before there had been a war meeting in Lansingburgh, with speeches and a performance by a glee club. Chauncy Filley of St. Louis, who was visiting in town, said he would give $100 to the first five volunteers, and Dr. I.G. Frazier would give $100 to the next five. The August 4 paper stated that there had been a war meeting in Schaghticoke “last Friday night,” which resolved “we see dangers to our unity, prosperity, and our very being as a nation,” and that the town “ought …to furnish speedily its full quota and more.”
On August 5, President Lincoln announced a draft of 300,000 men for nine months. This pushed the recruitment of the local regiment ahead, as it offered bounties to enlistees, which would not go to draftees. About half the necessary 1000 men had been recruited at that point. Another resolution in the paper called for “a vigorous war ..to be waged on a bitter and relentless foe.” This was signed by prominent men of the area, including Amos Briggs, industrialist of Schaghticoke.
The “Troy Times” announced the completion of each company of 100 men as it occurred. By August 11 the Hoosick Falls company was full, and a camp was opened on the river around Glen St. and River St- then the north end of Troy, where the men reported to be equipped and trained. By August 12,800 men had been recruited, but 347 men had filed claims for military exemptions. Most were firemen, who had important jobs at home, but others had varicose veins, liver complaints, defective vision, or amputated toes or fingers. That day, Captain Diamond’s Company from Nassau and Stephentown marched into camp to be mustered in. The paper trumpeted “Mr TD Platt of Stephentown was compelled to shut down his mill and suspend operations on his farm- his working men having all enlisted! Truly the mountaineers are ablaze with patriotism!”
On August 13 there was a war meeting at James Morrison’s hotel in Speigletown. “A large gathering of the citizens of Lansingburgh, Pittstown, and Schaghticoke is expected to take place, as it promises to be the largest gathering of its kind outside the city of Troy.” Several men from Troy, and Amos Briggs of Schaghticoke were to speak, and “a brass band from Troy will be in attendance and discourse some patriotic airs.”
A full company of 101 had been organized by August 15 in Schaghticoke and was headed for camp in Troy. That day the regiment received the designation as the 125th Also the paper reported that George Lamb Willard, who was already in the regular Army, had been released from his unit and would become the Colonel of the newly numbered regiment. Willard arrived in town on August 22. The paper began to speculate about the departure day of the regiment. . At this point the enlistees were to receive bounties from New York State and Rensselaer County, amounting to about $140, some payable upon enlistment, the rest after several months.

In 1861 George Lamb Willard had worked hard to recruit the first Civil War regiment raised in Rensselaer County, the 2nd NY, expecting to become its Colonel. His picture illustrates this column. He was in the regular Army. He had risen to the officers’ ranks following his heroism in the Mexican-American War as a youth, and was a Captain by the time the Civil War began. An Army regulation forbad currently serving officers from transferring to the new volunteer regiments, so he was not allowed to lead the 2nd. By the time the 125th was being recruited in July and August of 1862, the regulation had been changed due to the lack of qualified officers as the numbers of men in the Union Army grew and grew. So just before the 125th shipped out, Willard arrived to become its commander. The “Troy Times” newspaper reported every step of his progress from his base in the Washington, DC area to Troy.
George Willard had married a girl from Troy, Mary Gould Plum. She was the daughter of Elias Plum, wealthy leather merchant and bank president. They lived at 57 Second Street, now the home of the Rensselaer County Historical Society. The 1861 Troy City Directory lists George Willard as living there.
As men throughout the county enlisted in the 125th, and the companies reached their complement of 100 men, the newspaper named the men appointed Captains of the various companies. They were lettered A-K, and each company was focused on a town in the county. Captain John VW Vandenburgh, became the Captain of Company K of Schaghticoke. Charles A Picket became its 1st Lieutentant and McGregor Steele its 2nd Lieutenant. From my research, Captain Vandenburgh may have had experience as a New York National Guard officer before the war. I know very little about McGregor Steele, who was only in the unit until December of 1862, when he was discharged for unknown reasons.

But Charles Picket was son of an entrepreneur in Schaghticoke named Lewis Picket. In the years before the War, father and son were melodeon manufacturers, and they started a paper mill after the war. Picket had no military experience as far as I know. The newspaper recorded that Picket’s friend William P Bliss presented him with a sword, sash, and belt, and David Myers a uniform on behalf of his friends of Schaghticoke. William Bliss was the President of the Schaghticoke Powder Mill and really a friend of Picket’s father. The sword he presented him survives, owned locally. Myers was a peer of Picket’s, and probably his friends took up a collection to purchase the uniform. The newspaper does report a couple of similar presentations of swords in the regiment, but not the extensive gift that Charles received. We can only speculate about the charisma of the young man who inspired such a gift and/or the patriotism and enthusiasm of the village of Schaghticoke to make such a splendid purchase.

As August 1862 drew to a close, Companies A-K of the 125th NYS Volunteers filled up, 100 men each. Officers were appointed, Colonel Willard arrived. The “Troy Times” reported that its departure was expected any day. The men were mostly in tents in Camp Halleck, located near the Hudson River, at the junction of Glen and River Streets at what was then the north end of Troy.
We can only imagine the scene at the camp- lots of young men away from home from the first time, confusion as to when the regiment would depart, outfitting with new uniforms and weapons, visits from relatives and friends. The camp wasn’t fenced off in any way and was fully accessible to the city. In camp about August 15, a member of Captain Vandenburgh’s company “accidentally shot himself in the hand.” The ball was extracted and the wound dressed. There was also a lot of marching around. On August 21 Captain Myer’s company marched through the city proceeded by Doring’s Band, which “furnished the usual good music.” After saluting the residences of Mayor Thorn, Hon. J.A. Griswold and others, “the company partook of a fine meal at the American House, Alderman Eddy being the generous host of the occasion.” The Saturday before, Captain Esmond’s company had paraded through Lansingburgh.
A lot went into the outfitting a regiment of 1000 men to go to war. In October, the “Troy Times” gave this list: “a full requisition for a regiment calls for the following articles of clothing and equipment: 1015 great coats, 1015 trousers, 1015 blouses, 1015 bootees , 1015 caps, 1030 shirts, 4030 stockings, 2030 great coat straps, 1015 knapsacks, 1015 haversacks, 1015 canteens, 993 privates coats, 343 mess pans, 68 Sibley tents, 28 wall tents, 170 common tents, 1 hospital tent, 161 axes with handles, 161 hatchets with handles, 136 pickaxes with handles, 136 spades, 136 camp kettles, 20 bugles, 10 drums, 10 fifes, 10 camp colors, and 1 national color.” So everyone got a heavy coat, a pair of pants, what we would call a casual or fatigue coat, but they called a blouse, a shirt, a more formal uniform coat boots, a cap, two pairs of socks, a back pack to carry it all, a haversack to carry ammunition and a few small items needed in battle, and a canteen. The mess pans and kettles would be large enough for several men to cook together and the tents big enough for several to sleep together. About half of the men had to carry a digging tool or an axe. They would have to figure out their own bed and bedding.
The “Troy Times” reported the imminent departure of the 1000-man Rensselaer County Regiment for Virginia for about a week in August 1862 before the newly named-125th NYS Volunteer Regiment finally did leave. There must have been much excitement in the camp along the Hudson River as the farm boys and city boys did some marching and bid final good-byes to their families and friends. There was a final delay of a couple of days due to non-payment of the promised enlistment bounties from the county and the state- amounting to $140 in total- a huge amount at the time. But they were finally paid- and either handed over to families or pocketed. It was just a short walk from the camp east to the tracks of the Troy and Boston Railroad. The regiment entrained on 28 cars pulled by two steam locomotives and left at 8 p.m. on August 30. A large crowd assembled at the huge train depot in downtown Troy to watch the train pass through. Many had marched through the streets in a “war procession” to the station. They arrived at the depot just as the train did and “set off vollies (sic) of Roman candles which illuminated the scene. The cars passed through at a very swift pace, presenting a line of fluttering handkerchiefs and joyous faces at each and every window.”
This stirring scene was somewhat spoiled by one of those unexplained train stoppages. The train halted for an hour in south Troy, where some of the men got off to visit friends, and forty didn’t return! The train arrived in New York City at 7 a.m. Spectators waved as they passed Staten Island. After a brief rest at the Park Barracks, the men entrained again in the afternoon, now a total of 976 armed with Enfield rifles. They were fed supper by volunteers in Philadelphia, and then loaded on to freight cars to go on to Baltimore. They suffered their first real discomfort on that journey, from “the fearful jostling of springless cars.” They proceeded directly to Martinsburg, Virginia (now West Virginia), through what the newspaper’s correspondent described as “poverty stricken country,” with “rumors of rebels close by.”

If we think for a minute about the men of Company K, the Schaghticoke boys, they would have been a mixture of farm boys and mill hands, with a couple of clerks thrown in, none with any military experience. Some had been enticed to enlist by the promise of adventure, others fired by patriotism, still others thrilled with the size of the bounty- more money in hand than they had ever seen before. Perhaps others were unsure what they wanted to do with their futures, and figured, why not? They had done a bit of drilling and marching in camp in Troy, but most had arrived there in mid-August, and they were at the front lines at Harpers Ferry, Virginia by early September, probably never having fired their weapons.
Then the whole 125th Regiment met a horrible fate for men set out to fight the rebels and reunite their country: they were captured en masse when the post at Harper’s Ferry surrendered to the Confederates on September 15, without having fired a shot. The regiment was immediately paroled, as the Confederates had no way to imprison the 12,700 men in total who had surrendered. They were stationed at a parole camp, Camp Douglas, in Chicago for two months. Then they were declared exchanged and returned to Virginia. This was the largest surrender of Union soldiers during the war, but has been little written about. In part, I suppose Union historians didn’t want to examine such a major defeat. In part, a much more important battle, Antietam, with 26,000 casualties in one day, occurred just a couple of days later. Let’s look at this event which was so important to our local regiment more closely.
General Robert E. Lee had achieved several victories through the summer of 1862, and was preparing to invade the North. The Union garrison at Harpers Ferry, Virginia stood in his way. It would end up being in his rear as he advanced northward. Stonewall Jackson was sent to take the post with 26,000 men. He conceived a complicated plan of dividing his army in three parts and surrounding the armory and supply depot on three mountains around it. According to Dennis E. Frye, chief historian at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Jackson succeeded brilliantly in surrounding the town, and began an artillery bombardment on September 15. Colonel Dixon Miles, the Union Commander at Harpers Ferry, had orders from his superior, Major General John G. Wool, to “be energetic and active, and defend all places to the last extremity.” This is an important statement to us in Schaghticoke, as General Wool was raised here and had his home in Troy all of his life. But Miles and his advisors, facing annihilation by the Confederate artillery, surrendered the post on September 16. As Miles himself raised the white flag, he was hit by a piece of shrapnel and mortally wounded. Jackson captured 73 cannon, 200 wagons, about 13,000 rifles, and 12,700 prisoners, at the cost of 289 casualties: the biggest Confederate victory of the war.

General Stonewall Jackson led the Army that surrounded Harpers Ferry.

We are fortunate to have local views of the capture of Harpers Ferry. Joe Sticklemeyer found, edited, and published the letters of George Bryan of Company K, the Schaghticoke boys, written home to his friend Jennie Ackart. And the “Troy Daily Times” newspaper continued its comprehensive coverage.
On September 8, the newspaper reported that Constable McManus and Chief of Police Barron of Troy had gone south with twenty men they had rounded up who had deserted from the 125th as it was leaving town the preceding week. They had many adventures, but finally reached the camp in Martinsburg, named Camp Wool,“leaving their friends on the eve of battle” and bringing home 100 letters from soldiers to friends and family. The next day the paper’s correspondent reported that “the enemy are appearing from every direction…if the Confederates march up the heights, Harpers Ferry will be at their mercy. What has the Union done to meet the crisis?” The correspondent was Axiel Ellis, who had worked for the paper and enlisted in the 125th. So it appears that ordinary soldiers were aware of the danger.
Over the next few days, the paper was full of conflicting reports about events at Harpers Ferry. Often stories appearing on the first page of the paper would be contradicted on later pages, as the reporters updated events with new telegrams coming in. On September 15, the paper first stated that General Miles (actually Colonel) and all his command had been captured, “but it is only a rumor of the vaguest sort”, then that there had been no battle at Harpers Ferry. On September 16, the paper reported that the 125th had retreated from Martinsburg to Harpers Ferry, that there had been a battle at Harpers Ferry on Saturday and that Union troops had taken 6000 prisoners! And that Stonewall Jackson had been whipped in three battles. If only that had been true!
After the battle, Axiel Ellis added that during that march from Martinsburg the inexperienced and untrained 125th had “suffered exceedingly” due to their heavy knapsacks, and most men had ended up throwing away “everything except their arms.” From conversations with National Park Service Rangers, I learned that the 125th was at one end of the Union line by September 14. Their location was on a steep side hill leading down to the railroad line, which ran along the Shenandoah River. It must have been frightening for the very inexperienced men from Rensselaer County to be so exposed, but they held their ground. The 126th NY Infantry Regiment broke and ran under the barrage, but with their experienced Colonel, George Willard, the 125th held.
On September 21, the Times reported that several soldiers from the 125th had reached Troy with on-the-spot accounts. One dramatic story reported about the Regiment’s Colonel. “A round shot passed directly under Colonel Willard’s horse. He turned toward the battery from which the shot was fired, took off his hat as coolly as if on parade, and bowed to the enemy.” With an example like that, how could the men do otherwise than stay put!

map of Harpers Ferry from the website of the National Park Service

By September 17 the truth was reported, that the Union had surrendered Harpers Ferry and Colonel Miles had been killed. The September 19 issue gave a full story of the battle, adding that the white flag was “raised to prevent useless sacrifice of life,” but that the men were not happy about it, “a murmur of disapprobation ran along the whole line when it became known that we had surrendered, “though after the surrender, “soldiers on both sides set down to friendly conversation.” The reporter got to see the Confederate commander, Stonewall Jackson. He said “he was dressed in the coarsest kind of homespun, seedy and dirty at that, wore an old hat which any Northern beggar would consider an insult to offer him.” As to the Confederate troops, “the decayed appearance of the rebel soldiers…Ireland in her worst straits could present no parallel.” Also, the reporter was present when Colonel Miles died, and reported his extensive last words very dramatically.

Lt. George Bryan wrote home to his friend Jennie Ackart in Schaghticoke.

On September 25, George Bryan gave wrote his version home to his friend Jennie Ackart. “I suppose you have heard of our misfortune in being taken prisoners by the rebel Jackson’s army. You can judge yourself how I felt when I gave up my gun and equipment to the rebels. I had to march away amidst the cheers of the rebel forces.” George and the 125th were in camp on Sunday morning in Harpers Ferry when the Confederates “opened fire with six or seven batteries on us….they shelled us until dark…they shelled us three or four hours Monday morning” Then the army was surrendered. Bryan already had what became the prevailing opinion of the commander, Colonel Miles: “when the traitor Miles ran up the (white) flag….he was struck by a piece of shell and killed. He met his just reward. At one time the shot and shell flew all around our company, yet not one moved from his place…” Bryan was ready to fight and was deprived of the opportunity.
The US government investigated the facts of the surrender just a couple of months later. They pulled in all the officers involved and questioned them. Colonel Willard testified that the 125th had arrived at Harpers Ferry on September 12. . The Confederate artillery batteries on Loudon Heights- across the Shenandoah River opened fire, and many troops retreated “in considerable disorder.” By September 14, they were located as I described above. There had been rumors that the soldiers didn’t have enough ammunition to fight, giving the General in charge, General Miles, further reason to surrender. Colonel Willard testified that they did have ammunition, but had not been given the opportunity to fire a shot. But he also said, “I felt we were in very desperate circumstances,” meaning they were surrounded. It was easy to blame the defeat on Miles, as he had been killed as he raised the white flag, but by September 15, the Army probably didn’t have many options left.
The Times correspondent Ellis reported that the 125th marched 125 miles to Annapolis, Maryland after the surrender. “The regiment is at present somewhat discontented, dispirited and desirous of returning home until exchanged. The men are much opposed to being retained in camp or garrison.” Rumors swirled about what would become of them. One said that they would be sent to Chicago, another, more hopeful, that Governor Morgan of New York would make arrangements for them to go home. I’m sure that whoever was in charge felt that if the 125th were paroled to their homes, they would never return to the war.
But by the end of September 1862, the 125th was safely, if unhappily, in Camp Douglas in Chicago, Illinois. They had traveled by freight car with rations of “hard bread and partially cooked pork,” but patriotic people along the route had fed them. On the one hand, it must have been interesting for the boys from Schaghticoke to see a part of the country certainly none of them had ever seen before. On the other hand, they were captives in a not-very-sanitary camp. Ellis reported that Camp Douglas, on the shores of Lake Michigan, had comfortable tents, but on October 16, George Bryan wrote to Jennie, “The health of our company is poor. There is about twenty on the sick list.”- out of 100 in the company. George was not feeling well himself, but was still ready to fight, “I should like to meet a rebel hand to hand.” Ellis concurred that the men didn’t want a discharge, were “ready to take up arms, but feel they should have a short furlough.”

This is a photo of the camp of the 2nd Vermont, from the website of the National Archives- the camp of the 125th was undoubtedly quite similar

George described some of the living conditions of the company. The breakfast food was roast corn. Just before the fight at Harpers Ferry, he stated, “I have eaten enough roast corn since I have been out here to fat a hog. You know I used to tell you that hogs eat corn. I think as far as eating is concerned I have degenerated to a hog. I have made many a meal of hard crackers and raw bacon and pork, yet I am well and hearty and like to have a good time as well as I ever did.”
In Camp Douglas on October 16, he reported, “I have no place to sleep but on the ground.” It must have been getting chilly in Chicago in October. Bryan signed that letter as orderly sergeant, so he had already been promoted from his mustering in as a private. By November 2, 33 of the 100 men of Company K were sick, his and Jennie’s friend, Chauncey Crandall was in the hospital, and Ezra Burch had typhoid fever. He died a few days later. He was just the first to die. George wrote, “there is someone to blame from the many diseases of this camp…it is a sickly place around Chicago.” I’m sure that there was no intent to lose men to sickness and death due to bad conditions. Partly the system must have been overwhelmed by the sudden arrival of almost 13,000 men, and partly the sanitation of the time was just not what we have today.
Morale was poor. Axiel Ellis reported that “a spirit bordering on mutiny has been manifested. George added that men were deserting as well. The company was down to 85. At least two of their officers were allowed furloughs. Captain Vandenburgh accompanied the body of Ezra Burch at least as far as Troy, and Lieutenant Steele had a twenty day furlough due to his ill health. Ordinary soldiers did not receive furloughs, however. How could there not be great frustration to just be sitting around- if they couldn’t go fight, why couldn’t they go home?!
In my research into Company K of the 125th, I have found nine men who deserted in October in Chicago: Emery Beauchamp, Thomas Brand, Levi Buffett, Martin Roddy, James Scott, Joseph Slocum, and William Wolf deserted for good. William Martin returned to duty in May, 1863, presumably having spent the winter and spring at home, just in time to be wounded at Gettysburg in July. George Wolf also returned. In general, there just wasn’t sufficient manpower to search for men who went AWOL. And those who returned to duty were allowed to do so, perhaps with loss of pay as a penalty. I also found that musician Francis Hagadorn was discharged for disability in Chicago in March, 1863, long after the 125th had gone back to Virginia. He must have been in the hospital all that time. Josiah Slocum, an old soldier at 44, was also discharged for disability in Chicago, and David Johnson died in December in Chicago.
On the bright side, George told Jennie he was “glad to hear that you have formed an aid society for the benefit of the soldiers.” Only a month or so after the 125th had shipped out, the folks at home were thinking of their welfare. On September 13th “Troy Times” printed a long, long list of items put together by the ladies of Hoosick to the Sanitary Commission, the organization formed to help supply the troops. The list ranged from $150 in cash to quarts of currant jelly, jars of pickles, clothing and fabric for hospital use, pillows, canned tomatoes and onions, woolen socks, bottles of wine, gallons of vinegar, dried fruit, and pairs of pants, stockings, and slippers.
By the time George wrote to Jennie again, it was December 8th, 1862, and the address was “camp near Bullrun, Virginia.” The 125th had left Chicago by train on November 22, and “three days and four nights later” they were at Washington, DC. The 1000 man regiment was down to 675 men and 55 sick soldiers. Some soldiers were too sick to travel, including the “Troy Times” correspondent, Axiel Ellis, who died November 27 in Chicago, leaving a widow and two children.
The regiment received supplies and tents, and then was moved around several times in the vicinity of Centerville, Virginia. Each time George told Jennie about the winterization of their camp, they would have to move again, “but such is the life of a soldier.” George finally received a box that Jennie had sent him on January 2, 1863. “My box had been opened and some of the things taken out. All that was left was the stockings and mittens and some apples and crackers and paper and envelopes…I was sorry when I read your letters and found that most of the things had been lost. Yet I am thankful for them. It is very pleasant to me to know that I have friends at home.” If that was what was left in the box, it must have been incredibly stuffed.
The rations had improved since Chicago. “We have fresh beef once in five days and bread twice in five days; so we fare very well now.” For one supper, George described, “there is three of us in my tent…Fried some bread and meat together, it was kind of hash. We had bread and coffee to eat with it.” The men had to group together and cook for themselves- there was no Army mess as there is now.
For heat in that winter, he said, “We get a pan of coals in our tents and we get seated around it. And can have merry times.” George was keeping busy studying for promotion. They were all waiting for spring and the campaign season to begin.
In February, George described the land around the camp to Jennie. “We are camped on the top of a hill…We are in sight of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Manassas plains. There is earthworks all around our camp…” He states that 150,000 Rebels had camped in the area the winter before. George also answered questions she had asked in previous letters. What were the prospects of a battle? “we may be attacked before morning and we may stay here a year and not see any Rebels.” How would he feel about going into battle? “I enlisted to fight and do not mean to go home..until I have seen some more fight.”
In March, George reported he had been promoted to lieutenant and assigned to Company D, away from his friends in Company K. “At first I was quite lonesome, but now I am at home; I like the company.” There were raids by the Confederate cavalry quite frequently, and George spent many nights on picket duty. “I would much rather risk my life in battle than to be out so often all night in rainy weather…one is a slow death, the other honor or quick death.” Jennie must have asked if he was a Christian, as George replied, “I am far from being a Christian. I am sorry to have to say..” The lousy weather and strain of being on picket duty one night out of three were really wearing him down. He was eager to get going and participate in a decisive battle.
In May 1863 the regiment finally moved, but only about five miles. George went to Washington, D.C. for a day, and came back to find the regiment “encamped in a pine grove. It was the pleasantest place I have seen since I have been in the army. ….the first night I stayed there it was as pleasant a time as I have enjoyed in a long time. From retreat until tattoo the officers all met together around a large campfire. I passed about two hours in telling stories and singing. I wish you could have been where you could have seen us.”
That “pleasant” letter contrasts strongly with a slightly later one in May, where George describes having “seen men that have died in almost all ways, have seen one that was murdered by a soldier, and those that have died of disease in hospitals, and those that have been killed by accident, and some that were killed in battle.” “I used to dread the sight of a corpse, but now it is no new sight.” “Yet one thing we always try and do to those that die in our camp, that is to give them a military burial.”
On June 19, George wrote, “I have just had some lemonade and figs and now have lit my cigar, so you can see that I do not suffer any.” But excitement was building, “we expect a fight here every day.” More and more troops were arriving at camp. “It is so noisy and much exerting here that I cannot have much time to write.”
Those who are familiar with the history of the Civil War will know what fight was coming……but I will deal with it this July.

Frye, Dennis, E. website of the Harpers Ferry National Park:
Stickelmyer, Joseph, ed., “Friend Jennie,” 2009.
“Times Record” newspaper- various editions through July-September, 1862, on microfilm
Website of the Division of Military and Naval Affairs: http://dmna.ny.gov/historic/reghist/civil/infantry/125thInf/125thInfMain.htm

Herman Knickerbacker: Greatest Man Ever to Live in Schaghticoke?!



             I’ve written before about the most famous family in the history of Schaghticoke, the Knickerbackers. I will say again, if you haven’t visited the KnickerbockerMansion, you must! Look at their website: www.knickmansion.com for information on upcoming events. The Knickerbackers, Dutch from Albany, were among the first few European families to settle in Schaghticoke in 1708. In the next generation, John or Johannes Knickerbacker was Colonel of the local militia regiment in the Revolutionary War. His son John was among the ten wealthiest residents of town in 1800.

             It was John’s son Herman, who knew author Washington Irving.  Irving made Knickerbacker into an iconic name, a symbol of being a New Yorker. Herman or Harman Knickerbacker or Knickerbocker was born on July 20, 1779. He was the sixth child of fourteen of John Knickerbacker, Jr. and Elizabeth Winne. Three of the children, including an earlier Herman, born in 1770, did not survive childhood. Herman had three brothers, William, John, and Abraham. Perhaps because Herman would not be the principal heir, or perhaps because he just was more ambitious or more academically inclined than his brothers, Herman studied to be a lawyer. Of course, John, a wealthy man, could afford to have his son be a student rather than go right to work. Herman was a child of privilege.

           According to one of his obituaries, Herman studied law with John V. Henry in Albany and John Bird in Troy. Both were important men.  John V. Henry was the son of a merchant in Albany. Born in 1767, he was admitted to the bar in 1791. In 1800 he became Comptroller of New York State and was later the state Attorney General. John Bird, born in Litchfield, Connecticut in 1768, was a graduate of Yale, who came to Troy in 1793- very early in its history. He was a Federalist, elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1799. Herman had two powerful mentors in these men.  He also became a Federalist, and jumped into politics even as he was admitted to the bar in 1803.

            As an ambitious young man, Herman leapt into many things at once. Though he lived in Schaghticoke, Herman had his own law firm in Albany, in partnership with Job Pierson. Job was a newcomer to Schaghticoke, and a graduate of WilliamsCollege.  He completed his training to become a lawyer in Herman’s office in 1815. They were partners until 1835. Knickerbacker was appointed a Captain in a new troop of cavalry in the local militia in 1801. Fellow residents Bethel Mather and John Vanderspiegel were appointed Lieutenants.  Mather lived where the M & T Bank is in Schaghticoke now, and Vanderspiegel was the founder of Speigletown, the southern section of the town of Schaghticoke. . Continuing his military career, in 1810, Herman was appointed Major in the 3rd Regiment of Cavalry.  An item in the “Troy Post” of October 15, 1816, announces the annual review of the squadron of cavalry of RensselaerCounty at Lansingburgh on October 17 at 10 o’clock in the forenoon by order of H. Knickerbacker, commandant. Herman must have been an excellent horseman.  So now Herman had a career as a lawyer and entrée into his community as a leader in the militia.

            This portrait, courtesy of the New York Historical Society, shows Herman Knickerbacker as a young man. Doesn’t he look confident?


Herman Knickerbacker as a young man. Portrait in the New York Historical Society


            Herman became a trustee of the new Presbyterian Church in Schaghticoke in 1806, soon after its founding in 1803. He was chosen at a meeting of the church’s founders at the home of Bethel Mather, with whom he was also in the militia.  Pews in the newly constructed meeting house were sold in 1820. This was how the building was financed.  Herman bought pew 35 for $35 and pew 36 for $36. A couple of other men bought two pews, but Herman’s was one of the higher monetary totals. His law partner Job Pierson also bought a pew.  Perhaps this religious involvement was somewhat politically motivated, as none of Herman’s children was baptized in the Presbyterian Church. Even two children born after the pew purchase were baptized in the old-line Dutch Reformed Church.

              Herman also entered politics. He served as Supervisor of the town of Schaghticoke for the first time from 1805-1806. He also served in 1813, from 1818-1823, and from 1825-1826.  Knickerbacker reached what turned out to be the pinnacle of his political career when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1809. He followed his mentor Bird by only eight years, and directly followed another town resident, Josiah Masters. Like them, he was a Federalist. At the time the major political issue of the day was the coming War of 1812. The Federalists opposed the war. President Thomas Jefferson and the U.S. Congress imposed an embargo on U.S. trade with Great Britain in 1807. The embargo devastated the economy, though it did encourage the development of domestic industry.

            According to an 1833 newspaper article, Herman’s maiden speech in the House was against the continuance of the Embargo. He spoke of the negative effects of the embargo on the citizens of Schaghticoke. “It is said that he painted the suffering of his constituents so pathetically, and with such a masterly hand, that he threw the House of Representatives into convulsions of laughter.”  Herman only served one term in Congress.  It seems that many people today serve for many terms in Congress, but during this period, it was common for a Congressman to serve just one term.

               After his time in Washington, Herman continued to be very active in politics. In the “Troy Post” in 1813, there was an advertisement for the “Assembly Peace Ticket”. The Federal Republicans (Federalists) of RensselaerCounty met to nominate men to run for the N.Y.S. Assembly. Bethel Mather of Schaghticoke was one of the nominees, and Herman Knickerbacker was the secretary of the group. They called for “Peace, Liberty, and Commerce.” Herman continued in this role. In 1815, with the war over, the Federalists ran a long campaign ad, listing the many debts incurred and taxes imposed by the Republican government during the war, with nothing to show for it in the peace treaty ending it, and encouraging all to vote for the Federalist ticket.

           Herman served one term in the New York State Legislature in 1816, winning by a considerable margin over his Republican foe.  There was a controversy over seating one of the legislators of the opposite party in a disputed election.  Herman participated in a walk-out with other Federalists over the affair, saying “it was our duty; when we perceived that reason and argument were impotent to withstand the lust for office and the madness of faction.”  This sounds like something that could happen today!

          Knickerbacker ran for the NYS Senate in 1819 and 1822, but by then the Federalist party was losing sway, and in fact disappearing. He lost to the Republican candidate each time. Meanwhile he was serving as Supervisor of the town of Schaghticoke. In 1828, Knickerbocker changed his politics and became a Democrat and supporter of Andrew Jackson.  According to his obituary, he carried with him “a large majority of the Federalists in his town” as he did. The obituary adds that “he was a great admirer of the late DeWitt Clinton and enjoyed the confidence and friendship of that eminent statesman.” In 1828 he was also named First Judge of Rensselaer County, a position he held for the rest of his life. He was referred to thereafter as “Judge Knickerbacker.”

             Throughout, he was an active attorney, farmer, and industrialist.  Basically every early 19th century deed or will of a person in Schaghticoke which I have examined has Herman’s name in it somewhere- either as a creditor or a lawyer.   For example, while examining the probate papers of Andrew Diver, a well-off local man who died in 1809, I found that Herman Knickerbacker was the attorney. When Josiah Masters, the local man who had served in Congress just before Herman, died in 1822, Knickerbacker was the administrator of the estate. I have found two deeds where bankrupt people sold their land to Knickerbacker and partners, unable to pay back loans to them. They would have to sell the land to recoup their loans.  In 1828 William and Olive Slocum of Schaghticoke sold all their real and personal estate to Herman and a couple of others to satisfy their debts. Knickerbacker had endorsed several of Slocum’s promissory notes, which Slocum was now unable to pay, and had been awarded a judgment of about $5000 in Supreme Court.

       When the Rensselaer County Agricultural Society was founded in 1819, Herman was chosen the first Vice President, illustrating his involvement both in agriculture and politics.  In census listings, Herman listed his occupation as “farmer.”

         In 1811, Knickerbacker became the President of the Farmers Manufacturing Company, incorporated at Schaghticoke Point (the village of Schaghticoke)  to make “woolen, cotton and linen goods, and for making glass and from ore bar-iron, anchors, mill irons, steel, nail, rods, hoop iron, and ironmongery, sheet lead, shot, white lead, and red lead.” The trustees were Jonathan Mosher, Aaron Bemus, Ebenezer Deval, Harmon Groesbeck, and Joel Tallmadge. Richard P. Hart took over as President by 1819, and it became part of his huge mill holdings in the gorge of the HoosicRiver.  It was one of the earliest industrial ventures trying to take advantage of the power of the HoosicRiver, and Herman got in at the start. Perhaps it was a case of the investors wanting a prominent person as President, and Herman, just finishing a term as U.S. Congressman, would have been that. But as will be seen later, Herman had other mill ventures.

         Herman’s father, John, died in 1827. He left 1,166 acres around the KnickerbockerMansion, divided into three farms. William, the eldest son, had the first choice, and sons John and Abraham inherited the other two. Abraham ended up with the 332 acre home farm and the mansion.  Herman inherited “Gailord’s land”, and the rights to a mill that his grandfather had had.  An 1826 codicil left Herman a farm that had belonged to James VanAntwerp. One of these pieces of land may have been where he actually lived on the Tomahannock Creek. Law partner Job Pierson lived nearby.

         Besides his involvement in beginning a mill on the Hoosic River, Herman constructed mills himself, located near his home on the Tomahannock Creek, just to the east of where it crosses Route 40. An 1833 newspaper article reports that Knickerbacker “resides about a mile south of the village at the Point, on a singularly wild and romantic spot, upon the bank of Tomahnnock Creek. His ample brick mansion Knickerbacker embosomed in a grove, which he planted with his own hands, forty years ago. ..Below his mansion, Judge K has a number of mills, and likewise a Satinet Manufactory, all his own. He oversees these works himself, and likewise cultivates several extensive and very rich and beautiful farms.” (Satinet was an imitation satin, made of cotton.) To develop the mills, he would have had to construct a dam and its associated water courses. An 1839 deed records Herman selling some land on the Tomhannock to a principal in the Powder Mill. It discusses water rights, noting that Herman gave the buyer the right to use 1/3 of the water from HIS dam, and that he, Knickerbacker, was responsible for maintaining the dam.

         So you can see that Knickerbacker was involved in all aspects of his community, and indeed his county and state.  But he was also a very busy and involved family man. He married his first wife, Arietta Lansing in 1801. She was a daughter of Abraham Lansing and Else VanRensselaer of Albany. Thus Herman married into two of the most prominent Albany families. They had five children before her death in 1814. They had four children baptized in the Schaghticoke Dutch Reformed Church: Abraham Lansing, born in 1802, with godparents Abraham and Elsie Lansing Jr.; Elizabeth Maria, born in 1805; Catharine, born 1808; and Rebecca, born in 1813. The 1810 census of Schaghticoke  lists H. Knickerbacker with a family of 2 males, 3 females, and 4 slaves.

            Arietta died in April 1814. Herman married  Rachel Wendell in December. He needed a mother for those five small children.  Rachel was the daughter of John H. Wendell and Catherine VanBenthuysen of Albany. Wendell had been an officer in the Revolution, called “General” in later life, though he had not really achieved that rank. He was a prominent attorney who served in the N.Y.S. Assembly and as Albany County surrogate, treasurer, and justice of the peace. I find it interesting that Herman again married a girl from a well-known Albany family rather than from Schaghticoke. Herman would assuredly have known a fellow member of the bar in Albany.  He and Rachel had five more children. Daughter Arietta was born in November 1815. Cathalina Wendell, born in 1817 had her grandfather Wendell as godfather. Daughter Maria VanVeghten was born in 1819, son John in 1821, and daughter Rachel Jane in 1822. All were baptized in the Dutch Reformed Church in Schaghticoke. Now there were three sons and seven daughters.

         At a time when public education was just becoming established, and many girls received little or no education, Herman aspired to more for his daughters.   Four of his daughters by first wife Arietta attended the Troy Female Seminary, now EmmaWillard School. Elizabeth attended Emma Willard’s first school in Waterford in 1820. Emma Willard was a pioneer in education for women.  Elsie attended her Troy Seminary in 1822, Catharine in 1824-1825, and Rebecca in 1828. Arietta, a daughter of Herman and second wife Rachel, attended from 1830-1832.

Herman Knickerbacker sent his daughters to be educated by Emma Hart Willard at her groundbreaking school in Troy.

        The 1820 census lists Herman with a family of 1 male between 16 and 18, 1 between 16 and 26, 4 females under 10, 3 from 10-15, and 1 female slave from 26-44 years of age.  Just a note on slaves: Slavery was gradually abolished in New YorkState, beginning in 1799. Blacks born after that date would be free after a certain number of years, with all to be free in 1827. A second note:  Herman may have lived in a house near his brothers at this point, as they all appear on the same page of the census.

       Herman’s second wife died in 1823.  He married a third time on July 20, 1826, to Mary Delia Buel, at her church in Troy. She was the daughter of attorney David Buel and Rachel McNeil of Troy. Mary Delia was born in Litchfield, Conn., the seventh child of her parents. They had moved to the new city of Troy in 1798. Interestingly, one of Mary’s sisters was the second wife of Herman’s mentor, John Bird. Again, Herman would have known his father-in-law before the marriage through the bar association.

       In the 1830 census, Herman had a family of 1 male under 5, 1 20-29, 1 30-39; 2 females under 5, 2 from 5-9, 1 from 15-19, 3 from 20-29, and 1 from 30-39. He was 51, his wife in her 30’s. Herman and Mary had four children of their own, two boys and two girls: Sarah Bird, Charlotte, David, born 1833, and Herman. I don’t know where they were baptized. Herman and Mary’s daughters also attended the Troy Seminary:  Sarah Bird from 1841-1844 and Charlotte Buel from 1846-1848. Sarah continued there as an assistant after graduation and until her marriage. Herman had a total of fourteen children. Eleven survived childhood, just three of them boys: Abraham, the eldest child, born in 1802, and David Buel, and Herman, children of his third wife. David and Herman had uncles younger than they were, children of Abraham.

       Herman continued to live in a houseful of young people. In the 1840 census, he had a family of 2 males from 5-9, 1male 15-19, 1male 20-29, and 1 female under 5, 1 female 10-14, 1 female 15-19, and 1 female 30-39. By 1850, this activity was winding down. The 1850 census lists “Harman” a farmer aged 73, with an estate of $6,000, his wife Mary B., age 53, daughter Charlotte, age 18, and two servants, Ann Hopkins, age 30, who was Irish, and Eve Wolf, age 50. The other children were all off on their own.

       So far, I have given a purely factual recitation of the career of Herman Knickerbacker.  It is wonderful to know so much about a 19th century figure, but even more amazingly, we can also fill out the personality of this man.  Washington Irving was one of the major American authors of the 19th century. He found inspiration in Herman Knickerbacker.  In his Life and Letters, Irving gave a good summary of Herman’s life. He described him as “living hospitably, and filling various stations: a judge, a farmer, a miller, a manufacturer, a politician.” Irving is said to have introduced Knickerbacker (in Washington as a U.S. Congressman in 1807-1809) to President Madison facetiously as “my cousin Diedrich Knickerbocker, the great historian of New York.” Irving visited him several times at his home at Schaghticoke Hill. All of this clearly shows that Herman was Irving’s inspiration for the character of Diedrich Knickerbocker, the fictional author of Irving’s satirical “History of New York,” and that Herman was known not just for his accomplishments, but also for his hospitality.  His obituary in an Albany newspaper stated, he is “remembered rather as a companionable man than as a scholar or statesman.” The Troy “Times” obituary added that he was “noted for his keen wit, his original humor, which made him a favorite in social circles even in his old age.”

Portrait of Washington Irving by John Wesley Jarvis, 1809. He used Herman Knickerbacker as his inspiration for Diedrich Knickerbocker.


Illustration of Diedrich Knickerbocker from Washington Irving’s satirical “History of New York,”


         An 1833 newspaper article describes a tour by the paper’s correspondent around the Saratoga area. He reports, “I have recently returned from a very pleasant visit to Schaghticoke, where I had the happiness of dining with the Prince of that Palatinate, Gen. H. Knickerbacker, in his own hospitable castle. He is a merry sovereign….The Prince has long been celebrated for his hospitality, his humor, and his amusing eccentricities.”  Scribner’s Dictionary of American Biography reports that at his estate in Schaghticoke, “he lived so perfectly the part of the ‘lord of the manor,’ dispensed hospitality with so lavish a hand, and showed himself as liberal in his charities that he became widely known as the ‘Prince of Schaghticoke.’” 

         Herman’s official Congressional Biography also notes his hospitality and generosity.  However, none of the sources mention that Herman was involved in a large number of business and legal affairs in his community. As I noted earlier, basically every will or deed I have looked at from about 1810 to 1830 includes Herman in some way. He was the lawyer, the administrator of the estate, the lender of money, the partner of others in some legal wheeling and dealing. Knickerbacker’s influence may also be seen in the fact that his neighbors Hannah and Peter Grant named a son born in 1810 Herman Knickerbacker Grant.

        I found several 19th century newspaper articles where people had written to ask about the source of the term “Knickerbocker” to refer to a New Yorker. All traced it to Herman Knickerbacker via Washington Irving, though none cited any sources for their information. An 1876 article said that Herman was a practical joker. Once when entertaining the mayor and council of Troy, he pretended he had forgotten the date, and was overheard asking the cook how they could make one chicken stretch to such a huge number of guests, just before “the dining room doors opened on a most sumptuous repast.” This story came from an article written by General Ebgert L. Viele for “Harper’s Magazine” in the same year, titled “The Knickerbockers of New York Two Centuries Ago.” Viele’s mother was a Knickerbacker. An 1890 article stated that Herman was “a man of wit as well as fortune, and extremely fond of practical jokes.”

        Herman died January 30, 1855 in Williamsburgh, New York City, at the home of his daughter Sarah Bird Knickerbacker and her husband Reverend Samuel Haskins.  His wife Mary had died at Sarah’s home just a few weeks earlier, on December 6, 1854. His obituary notes that he suffered paralysis soon after his wife’s death and “gradually failed” up to the date of his death. Sarah herself died later that same year in Saratoga, where she had gone for her health. While Mary was buried in OakwoodCemetery, where there was already a Buel family plot, Herman was interred in the KnickerbackerCemetery, across the street from the Mansion, next to his first two wives. There has been some speculation that a rift between the couple may have been responsible for this separation, but given that the couple was cared for in the same child’s home until death, I feel this is unlikely. Perhaps finances were more the reason, or perhaps Mary’s relatives thought she should be with her own family, rather than in a row with Herman’s first two wives.


       A lengthy obituary for Herman appeared in the Troy “Times” on February 2, 1855. There were few obituaries in the newspaper in that era, so this was a sign of Herman’s importance. And the obituary could not have been more laudatory.  The Rensselaer County Bar Association held a special meeting to mourn Knickerbacker. Long-time law partner Job Pierson chaired the meeting and began by saying that for the first twenty years of their partnership, he and Herman had been political opponents, “yet never during that time did we ever entertain personally an unkind feeling the one to the other. During all his life time never had, indeed could not have had a personal enemy.  His kindness was his only fault.” Others went on to note he was “an honorable and honest man in all the walks of life.” General Viele said “a more benevolent and philanthropic could scarce ever beamed upon oppressed and struggling humanity.” The paper added that “the quaint stories and laughable anecdotes of which the Judge is the hero are almost innumerable.”  The bar association voted to wear mourning badges in his honor for thirty days.

        Ironically for a lawyer and judge, Herman died without a will.  But there is a probate file connected with sorting out his estate. The file notes that Herman died with eleven grown children and no widow.  David and Herman, sons by Herman’s third wife, were administrators of the estate, along with Clarence Buel, who may have been a brother-in-law, and M.C. VanBuskirk.

       It does seem that Herman Knickerbacker was a generous man, perhaps too generous. Former law partner Job Pierson stated in his funeral speech that “it was his misfortune through life to risk his credit for his friends until at length …at the close of life he was robbed of that affluence which ….had enabled him to entertain his friends with princely magnificence.” The Surrogate placed notices in the local papers calling any creditors to come forward. Herman’s estate was inventoried and its contents had to be sold at a public auction and a private sale in February 1855, so that expenses of the estate could be paid. The public sale brought $620. The real estate brought $2,350. Funeral expenses were about $110, including $40 for a modest tombstone, paid to grandson John Hale Knickerbocker; $27.50 for a mahogany coffin; and $7 to Reverend Roberts, who officiated at the funeral. Son David received $507 to cover his expenses, and the attorney got $90.  Old law partner Job Pierson received about $110, from an old dispute, and physician Ezekiel Baker, $55.

       A closer examination of the inventory shows a library of about 150 volumes, including biographies of famous people, such as Jefferson and Washington, 17 volumes of Shakespeare, and an 8-volume history of England. The most valuable piece of furniture was a marble mantle clock valued at $10.  Possible proof of the entertaining Knickerbacker did is seen in the total of 83 chairs of different types in the inventory! How many chairs do you have in your house?

        I would love to see the “old Dutch Clock” listed, worth $2, or the several “pictures” and “paintings,” or the mahogany cradle worth $3.  Was that clock a family heirloom? There was also a teapot, sugar, and creamer valued at $20, the largest single sum on the list, and a wide variety of other household belongings. There was little in the way of farm implements, and no farm products (except for a ton of hay) or animals. Evidently that had been sold or given away earlier. There were several vehicles: a lumber wagon, two cutters (sleighs), and one “covered carriage” valued at $15. All in all, this seems a paltry estate for such a prominent man. It also seems sad that there wasn’t a will, where there could have been personal bequests to his many children. Perhaps he took care of that in life, giving mementos and financing to his children as they grew up and moved away.

       Let me add a note on a couple of Herman’s sons.  Abraham, born in 1802, is listed in the 1850 census as a farmer with an estate of $15,000. He and his (second) wife Mary had two sons living at home. John Hale, age 21, was listed as a student, and son Henry, 17, as a farmer. Mother-in-law Mary Hale lived in the home, along with one Irish farm hand, one black laborer, and two Irish serving girls. Jon Stevens of Easton, the absolute expert on Knickerbockers, says that Abraham had also been involved with his father in manufacturing.

       Herman’s son David Buel, born in 1833 and older than nephew John Hale, attended TrinityCollege in Hartford, Connecticut, then the General Theological Seminary in New York City. Perhaps he was at school when his father died in 1855. The next year, David went to the new town of Minneapolis, Minnesota, population 300, as a missionary. He remained there for 27 years, and then became the 3rd Protestant Episcopal Bishop of Indiana. He died in 1894.

      Looking back,  though Herman lived a full life, and was a credit to his community, his much greater legacy is as the inspiration for Washington Irving’s Diedrich Knickerbocker, and as the source for the use of “Knickerbocker” as a symbol of a New Yorker.


Bibliography for the whole series:

“Annals of Albany, 1850-1856” p. 316.

Bielinski, Stefan, biography of John V. Henry and John Wendell online

Congressional Biography, online

Scribner’s Dictionary of American Biography, online

“Troy Post” articles: April 13, 20, 1813; Apr 18, 1815

“Goshen Patriot”, Apr 6, 1819

“Geneva Gazette”, Feb 28, 1816

“Military Minutes of the Council of Appointment of NYS” 1801

“Albany Evening Journal” Apr 30, 1833

“NY Sun”, Feb 9, 1908

“St. Lawrence Plain Dealer”, Nov 30, 1876


“Emma Willard and her Pupils”, ed. By Mrs. Fairbanks, 1898.

Records of the Schaghticoke Dutch Reformed and PresbyterianChurches

Website of the Knickerbocker Historical Society

Various census records for Schaghticoke

Probate records in Rensselaer County Historical Society

“Troy Times” Feb 2, 1855

Cemetery records, town of Schaghticoke

Deeds with Herman Knickerbocker as grantor/grantee: Rensselaer County Courthouse annex








The Industrial Revolution in Schaghticoke


             The  Industrial Revolution in the new United States was  based on use of water power and improvement of transportation. There had been a few mills in Schaghticoke prior to 1800, saw and grist mills on the Deep Kill and Tomhannock Creeks. They produced products for local consumption.  The construction of the first bridge across the river at what is now the village of Schaghticoke around 1790 made possible the exploitation of the tremendous water power of the 100-foot falls there. I have already written of the construction of the Northern Turnpike in about 1800, another part of the transportation component of industrialization. But access to those falls was critical to future development.

             According to Beth Kloppott in her “History of Schaghticoke”, William Chase built the bridge over the Hoosic in 1788, and turned it over to New  York State in 1792 in exchange for 12,000 acres of land north of the Mohawk River. The map of the Corporation Lands at Schaghticoke- the portion of town owned  by the City of Albany in the vicinity of  the Knickerbocker Mansion, has “Chase’s Bridge” labeled. William Chase appears in the 1790 census of the town with a family of six males aged 16 and over, seven females, and one slave.  In 1794  town records show that Chase was reimbursed 59 pounds for repairs to the bridge. 


            A  new bridge was already needed by 1799. By that time, William Chase had moved on. He does not appear in the 1800 census. New York State authorized a company made up of John Knickerbacker, Bethel Mather, Charles Joy, Silas Weeks, John Travis, and Zephaniah Russell to build the bridge and collect tolls for 25 years, after which the state would take over. These local men were probably interested in the tolls, but perhaps more in the industrial development made possible by the bridge. While Knickerbocker and Mather were primarily farmers, Charles Joy was an immigrant from Boston who would soon build a textile mill on the Hoosic.

this section of the c 1790 map of the Albany Corporation shows the Chases Bridge label straddling the Hoosic River at what would become the Village of Schaghticoke

                After 1800, the factory system grew throughout the U.S., with larger and larger numbers of employees working in a central building, using machines operated by water power, rather than individual craftsmen working at home or in small shops.  New England entrepreneurs moved into Schaghticoke, eager to develop factories using the water power of the Hoosic. Gradually, manufacture of woolen and linen cloth moved from the home to a central factory building. The village of Schaghticoke began to grow, as people moved into town to work in the mills. They needed places to live and shop.  By 1813, Spafford’s  “Gazetteer” said the town of Schaghticoke had twelve grain mills, eleven saw mills, one oil mill, one fulling mill, two carding machines, one cotton, and one linen mill. While some of the grain and saw mills were on other streams in town, the rest of the mills were on the Hoosic at the new village of Schaghticoke Point.

                According to Sylvester’s History of Rensselaer County, Charles and Benjamin Joy of Boston constructed the first mills at   ‘Schaghticoke Point”: a carding machine (which would card wool, preparing it for spinning), a grist mill, and a saw mill. Charles was one of the group who financed the construction of the second bridge over the river in 1799.  The saw mill still survived in 1850, when Lewis Pickett built a paper mill on the spot. The paper mill was across the street from where Agway is now. Joy’s Schaghticoke Linen Mills, founded about 1800, were just downstream. They manufactured duck, a heavy canvas fabric. The site later became the Cable Flax Mills, which I will discuss in future posts. Another candidate for the first mill at Schaghticoke is a fulling mill, which would have finished the woolen fabric woven on home-based looms. A 1798 advertisement in the “Troy Northern Budget” states that Edward Hart “has taken the fulling mill at Schaghticoke Point,” which would indicate her had purchased an already-existing business.

              Sylvester also states that there was a machine shop “perhaps as early as 1800” on the south side of the river, west of Route 40, owned by George Brown and his son-in-law Giles Slocum. This later became a cotton factory owned by Ephraim Congdon, then a twine factory. The cotton factory burned and a new twine factory was built on the site. Brown and Congdon negotiated over the sale of the land, water rights, and the right to build a dam- necessary to create the vital water power. Brown sold land and water rights to the Starr Manufacturing Company, incorporated in 1814, which manufactured woolen, cotton, and linen goods. A relic of that company is the “Star Hole”, a depression in the Hoosic River under the bridge at Schaghticoke, jumped into to cool off in summer by generations of local teenagers. Further downstream on the south side was a cotton factory, built by Waddell and Shephard about 1816, which operated about twenty years before it burned.  Sylvester goes on to say that at one time there was a plan to develop the water power slightly downstream from that, at Buck’s Neck, creating a chain of factories, but that the dam necessary for the project was washed away in an unexpected flood of the river, and never rebuilt. None of the companies discussed in this paragraph was successful in the long term, but the owners continued to reinvest and build anew. 

this photo is taken from down stream- and really shows the falls on the Hoosic River at Schaghticoke. Ray Seymour found it for me.

              The Rensselaer Woolen and Cotton Manufacturing Company was downstream from an early flax mill, on the north side of the river. It was incorporated at Schaghticoke Point in 1810 for the purpose of manufacturing “woolen, cotton, and linen goods, and for making glass, and from ore, bar iron, anchors, mill-irons, steel, nail rods, hoop iron, (and other iron goods)”. From the list, it seems the goal was to use the products of the farmers and provide them with metal goods they might need. It owned land on the river which it rented to smaller companies.

             The first directors of the Company were James Brookins, James Cornell, Munson Smith, Leonard Cozzens, and Charles Starbuck.  Brookins, whom I will write  more about in other posts, was an officer in the Green Mountain Boys during the Revolutionary War, who moved here in 1793. He was also an original commissioner in the Northern Turnpike Company of 1801. Smith appears in the 1800 census, but not Cornell, Cozzens, or Starbuck, who were newcomers to town. The company advertised in “The Troy Post”, seeking raw wool to be exchanged for finished wool cloth, and for “six or seven good families, who would engage several out of each family to be employed in the Manufactory.” These families would receive housing, courtesy of the mill.  Presumably, the mill would buy its wool locally, but would have to import the cotton.

           The company struggled.  In 1812 and 1816 New York State lent the company money. In 1814, it advertised the sale of some of its cotton spinning machinery: “new cotton machinery for sale. 4 new throssel frames, containing 60 spindles each, and 2 mules of 180 spindles, apply to Messrs. Richard P. Hart and Co. Troy or at Schaghticoke Point where the machinery can be seen. Erastus Skinner, agent for the Rensselaer. Woolen and Cotton Mfr Co.”  There must have been other machinery, because on August 22, 1815, the company advertised “wanted  3 or 4 journeymen clothiers at the Rensselaer. Woolen and Cotton Mfg Co, Schaghticoke Point, Erastus Skinner agent.”  On August 25, 1815, it advertised “Manufacturers and Clothiers take notice: in May last there was a piece of broadcloth partly dressed left with us to be finished which we have reason to believe was stolen.  Any person proving property and paying charges can have it by calling on Erastus Skinner, Agent.” One wonders what story the person told who brought this length of fabric to be finished, and why the factory came to believe it was processing stolen goods! It’s also interesting to know that the factory processed fabric woven elsewhere- presumably of home manufacture.

perhaps the cotton machinery at the mills in Schaghticoke looked something like this

                In 1816, the agent tried to settle some of the unfinished business of the company. On October 8, he advertised:  “Notice: all persons indebted to Renselaer Woolen and Cotton Mfg requested to call and settle their accounts by 1st of November.  All remaining unsettled at that time will be put in proper hands for collection.  Also all persons having yarn in their hands to weave or cloth wove are requested to return the yarn or cloth without delay as the business must all be closed.” The second part of this ad gives another indication that at least some of the cloth was  being woven in private homes, then brought to the mill for finishing. I think that the reference to the business being “closed”, just means that the accounts needed to be settled. As is true now, much business was done on credit.

                I must quote another fascinating ad from agent Erastus Skinner in the “Troy Post” of January 7, 1817.”$ 30 Dollars Reward/ Stolen from the tenter bars in the Dry House of the Rensselaer Woolen and Cotton Mfg Co on Saturday night December 28: 3 pieces of cloth: 1 piece black broad cloth about 25 yards fulled, napped, and not sheared; 1 piece mixed Kerseymere about 24 yards, cotton warp, fulled and partly dressed; 1 piece country cloth black about 6 yards, fulled and partly dressed. Whoever will return the whole shall receive $20 reward or in proportion to what is returned and $10 for lodging the thief in the gaol of the county and all reasonable charges paid.”  Broadcloth can be either woolen or cotton. Kerseymere, a term first used in 1793, was a fine woolen cloth with a twill weave, though in this case, the warp was cotton. We also learn that the factory had a special building where the cloth would be spread out to dry on tenter bars. One wonders who would steal cloth that was not finished, and if the thief was caught.

this illustration shows fabric on tenter hooks

         In 1819 the company was ordered sold to cover its debt. The factory burned in 1821, but it was rebuilt by two men who would figure prominently in the continuing industrial development of Schaghticoke, Amos Briggs of Schaghticoke and Richard Hart of Troy. 

                   While the Hoosic River was the primary location of mills in Schaghticoke,  the water power of the Tomhannock Creek, which crosses Route 40 at the settlement of Schaghticoke Hill, was also used by industry. On the northwest side of the stream where the bridge crosses on Route 40, there was a grist mill, operated by the Evans family. Sylvester’s history states there was a saw mill and turning factory of George Burton nearby as well.  Just downstream was the complex known as “Knickerbocker’s Mills”, site of textile works. Sylvester states there was a mill there as early as 1800. I have found that Herman Knickerbocker ran a “Satinet” factory there around 1830. Yet further downstream is the original location of the Schaghticoke Powder Mills, founded about 1812 by the Masters brothers. I will write further about both Herman Knickerbocker and the Masters and the Powder Mill in future posts as the stories are long ones.

             Continuing on downstream on the Tomhannock Creek, there are three waterfalls- Sylvester says two, but I have visited all three. Buttermilk Falls, just upstream from the bridge on Buttermilk Falls Road, is the most visible of the falls. According to Sylvester, there used to be a grist mill and a very early bellows factory somewhere in the vicinity of that falls or the one just below it, which is visible to the west of the road, especially in the winter. Sylvester states that construction of the railroad created new water power in the area, and that Elisha Brownell built a dam and a paper mill to take advantage of it in 1852, but that the mill burned after just a few years of operation.  Farther downstream, near the current Denison Farm, is supposed to be the site of the first grist mill built north of Albany,around 1707, on a small stream which runs into the Tomhannock. William Pitt Button, who owned the farm when Sylvester’s history was written in 1880, built a small dam at the same site to churn butter for the family. Still farther downstream, Anthony Button built a flax mill around 1875.

           Mills were also built on the Deep Kill, the stream which crosses Route 40 in Grant’s Hollow. From 1819-1912, the Deep Kill was the southern boundary of the town of Schaghticoke. Michael Cook, founder of Cooksboro and a Revolutionary War veteran, had a grist mill on the Deep Kill, which formed the southeasternmost boundary of the town. The next mills on the stream were at what is now called Grant’s Hollow, mills to produce agricultural machinery, first constructed about 1836 by Issac T. Grant. I will write about Mr. Grant in future posts, as his is a fascinating  and lengthystory. Further downstream on the Deep Kill toward the Hudson, there were just a few saw mills.

         Mill construction continued in Schaghticoke throughout the 19th century, sometimes in what to us would seem surprising locations, considering the meager flow of the streams. I will discuss these mills in future columns. The early 19th century industrialization transformed the town from a purely agricultural area to a booming site of industry. The village of Schaghticoke grew quickly, and agriculture began to be focused on producing products for the textile, grist, and saw mills. Retail businesses sprang up to serve the new residents, who were both locals and new immigrants, first from New England, then from Ireland, and Scotland, come to find jobs. Schools developed to serve the children of the incomers, as did a variety of churches. Schaghticoke left its colonial past behind.



Kloppott, Beth. History of the Town of Schaghticoke, 1988

Sylvester, Nathaniel, History of Rensselaer County , New York, 1880

Lansing Papers, NYS Archives

“Troy Northern Budget” in the Rensselaer County Historical Society