The Telegraph Boys of Albany

Before the phone, before radio, before TV, before the Internet, before texting, people communicated by and got their news from the telegraph. To send and receive telegrams every city had a fleet of telegraph boys. By the late 1800s they mostly road bicycles, but walked in more crowded downtown areas. These uniformed young men ages 10 to 18 worked outdoors with no supervision and union benefits.

Albany’s telegraph boys, numbering about 30, went on strike in 1903 and 1915. Said one of the boys, “Dey want to pay us $14 per month (about $350 in today’s dollars) and den sneak 3 Sundays from us. We want 2 cents a message and 3 cents a call. We can make more on commission than regular a salary.”

In the later strike the boys were incensed that thousands of messages were delivered to the NYS Legislature in bulk, depriving them og their 2 cents a message. An 1886 an Albany Argus article extolling the necessity of telegraph boys posited, “In the process of time we may arrive at some invention which will entirely obviate all need of any intermediary to distribute telegraphic messages as they arrive. Telegraph wires may be laid on every house, like water and gas. Or as we have hinted, telephones may come into general popularity. Or a patent double-barrelled automatic and mechanical telegraph boy may be discovered in the dim and distant future, which will bring our messages around to out separate doors with lightening like rapidity and unfailing regularity. There would be no fear of mechanical boys playing chuck-fathing* in the gutter. These developments may, we repeat, may be reserved for posterity to gloat over. At present, however, we can not do without the human, the much too human, telegraph boy. He indisputably holds the field.”

* similar to pitch penny

Al Quaglieri

Albany’s City Halls

Hard to imagine that in its long almost 400 year history Albany has had only 4 city hall buildings.

First Stadt Huys

We don’t know the exact date the first city hall was erected, but it was probably during the time when the city was still Beverwyck and part of the Dutch colony before 1664. It was at the corner of Court St. (Broadway and Hudson). It was known as the Stadt Huys (or Haus). It was a substantial, but small building with several large rooms on a first floor and a jail in the basement. (Sadly there are no images.) Technically it wasn’t a city hall until the Royal Governor made Albany the first chartered city in the U.S. in that very building in 1686.

Second Stadt Huys

In 1741 the city fathers thought it was time for new digs and a new building was constructed on the same location, surrounded by greenery and trees. It was much larger 3 story building of brick, but simple and plain. It had a steep roof and a belfrey. It too had a jail. It was on the steps of this building that the Declaration of Independence was first read to the city in July, 1776 and where Ben Franklin first proposed the Albany Plan of Union – a confederation of the British colonies in 1754, 20 years before the Continental Congress was formed.

Eagle St. City Hall

By the early 1800s, after the Revolutionary War, the city was expanding. The old Stadt House had seen better days. It was the home of the Albany Common Council, the local and NYS courts, AND the NYS Legislature after Albany became the capital. It was time for a new city hall (and a state capitol building). These were both constructed around the new public square at State and Eagle Streets. The new city hall was erected in 1829,

Enter renowned architect and Albany government official Philip Hooker. He designed both the new Capitol in the back of the public square and Albany’s City Hall on Eagle St. and Maiden Lane, across the street from the Capitol and the square. It was a large neo-classical building with pillars and a dome. There are no interior photos, but it was probably a simple yet dramatic style, with federal decoration and large elegant rooms (based on those few Hooker buildings that survive today).

The building also doubled as the Federal Courthouse. It was in this building in 1873 that Susan B. Anthony was indicted by a Grand Jury composed solely of men for voting in a federal Congressional election in Rochester in 1872. Alas, the Hooker City Hall was destroyed by fire in 1880.

Current City Hall

The current City Hall open in 1883. It was designed by Henry Hobson Richardson, one the most well-known architects of the day. His style is known as “Richardson Romanesque”. His building exteriors are solid and large, and make a statement, although the interiors are surprising open and light. (He also collaborated on the design of the existing NYS Capitol Building). Attached to City Hall by a bridge was the jail on Maiden Lane. (By 1883 the city jail on the corner of Howard and Eagle Streets had become Albany Hospital.) It appears the jail was demolished in the early 1900s.

The carillon was added in 1927 through subscriptions of the citizens of the city. It’s housed in a tiny room, up a set of rickety winding steps.

City Hall and jail from Maiden Lane

Julie O’Connor

Albany’s Postal Service

Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to establish post offices and postal roads. Ben Franklin was one of the geniuses behind creation of the U.S. Post Office (USPO), and served as the Post Master General during the Revolutionary War. The Post Office was seen as a critical element to bind the separate colonies together, facilitate interstate commerce and form as “more perfect Union”.

By the time Washington became president there were 75 post offices in America. Many of the major highways we know today were maintained as “Post Roads”. U.S. Route 9 from Albany to NYC was known as the “Albany Post Road”. Mail from major cities was usually delivered to Albany twice a week by contracted Post Riders by the late 1700s. In more remote areas mail was sent with whomever was making the next trip to the city. A farmer could leave a letter at the local tavern in the hope that someone would be going to Albany in the near future. In cities like Albany the PO might be located in a city hall, at that time on Broadway near State St. in the heart of the small city. Or the city’s Postmaster might have been a prominent grocer or inn keeper. We simply don’t know. That’s where the mail was left when it came from Boston, NYC, Hartford, Saratoga, Bennington, etc. And that’s where recipients had to go to retrieve their mail.

William Winne – the Penny Postman

Enter the “Penny Postman”. In Albany it was William Winne. Mr. Winne was the city’s penny postman, and a well known figure on Albany streets for about 4 decades. You could enter into an agreement with Mr. Winne, and he would pick up and deliver your mail for for a couple of cents a letter. Someone m gu, created a silhouette of Mr. Winne that became synonymous with the Penny Postman for centuries.

William Winne

As the city grew more contract postal carriers went into business.

The Exchange Building

And then came Albany’s population explosion following the opening of the Erie Canal. A more “official” PO located in the newly built Exchange Building on the corner of State St. and Broadway was opened. By now there were PO boxes. And if you didn’t use the services of a paid postman you could find your name on a list published in a newspaper that told you there was mail to be picked up. (The newspaper listings were divided between male and female names.. which I never understood.) And so the PO remained with some improvements.

Exchange Building on right

Postage stamps were first issued in 1847, but until 1856 other methods of payment were legal. And mail from other cities arrived by train and boat to downtown. By the 1840s the use of the telegraph expanded people’s ability to communicate, but as the country grew government funded mail delivery was still critical.

Civil War

The Civil War was the catalyst for major changes. Millions of men went to war, and boys sent letters home to Mom and Mom sent letters and cookies and hams to their sons. Mail volume grew exponentially. So there were major improvements. In Albany the most important was the creation of a paid postal carrier service. Initially there were 5 Albany “post men”. All Civil War vets. This was before the age of the civil service merit system, so these jobs were patronage positions. (My grandmother’s Uncle Charlie had served bravely at Gettysburg – so he got one of the jobs.)

Federal Building

By 1880 the Albany PO moved into the new Federal Building which took the place of the old Exchange Building. (Today it houses admin offices of SUNY Central.)

Federal Building on corner of State St. and Broadway

As the country expanded west settlers in far flung settlements sometimes had to travel for days to collect mail at the “County Seat”. For a brief time the legendary Pony Express filled the gap, traveling where there were no railroads. And private companies like Wells Fargo and American Express used railroads and stage coaches to ship the mail and packages, began in the 1840s and 1850s. It’s worth noting that men from Albany, including one former postmaster were involved in the founding of these companies. In Albany County small spur railroads delivered the mail into villages like Slingerlands and Voorheeseville that had their own tiny post offices.

Rural Free Delivery

In 1896 a new service of the USPO changed America. Rural free delivery was enacted by Congress. It ensured those who lived in rural areas would get their mail delivered to their homes without schlepping into the closest village. (Over half of the US population still lived outside cities at the time.)

Rural Free delivery in West Albany

And so when it came to selection of a site for the new Union Station by the New York Central Railroad it had to be next to Post Office. If you look carefully at old photos and postcards you can see the mail wagons on RR mail platforms and chutes from the PO from above with large bags of mail.

Mail bags on platform at Union Station

Parcel Post

The next innovation in 1913 changed America again- Parcel Post. For years private carriers had charged exorbitant fees to deliver packages. With the advent of the new service new markets opened to city merchants. Whitney’s and Myer’s Department stores on North Pearl could reach homemakers in Preston Hollow and Coeymans. Even women in the city could see an ad in the newspaper, and write a letter or make a phone call to order a new blouse or a table cloth. And it could be delivered within a day or so. Business boomed. (Mr. Sears, who by now had bought out Mr. Roebuck, made a fortune with his catalog – Amazon 1.0.)

Governor Sulzer’s wife accepts Parcel Post package
Mail order dept. Albany Hardware and Iron, State St.

Airmail

Regular airmail in Albany began in the mid 1920s, and flying of mail at night in 1930 after the new airport was built in Colonie. And so we had the framework of the USPO we know today.

Albany’s Art Deco Post Office

The last major change in Albany was the building of a new federal building on Broadway in the early 1930s. (Today it houses the Foley Courthouse.) The Post Office was on the first floor. It was an Art Deco marvel. It was housed in a huge space -all marble, glass and brass with beautiful ceiling murals. It almost felt like you were in a church or a great museum.

Interior of old Post Office, now the Foley Court House

Albany and the Hudson River Daylines

Albany was removed from the regular Dayline route in 1947.

The last jewel in the crown was the “Alexander Hamilton” which became part of the New York Circle Line fleet, touring NYC harbor and traveling north part way up the Hudson, until a fire in the 1970s.

Robert Fulton successfully sailed his first steamboat “The North River Steamboat” (A/K/A “The Clermont”) in 1807.

By 1812 his North River Company (a/k/a the Hudson River) was operating 3 ships with regular schedules between New York and Albany. Competition developed and by 1822 the Hudson River Line was created.

We estimate that by 1850 there were at least 8 lines or individual ships you could use to book a trip to New York City.

After the Civil War came the golden age of Hudson River steamships. Two dominate lines emerged – the Hudson River and the People’s Line. Ships turned into floating palaces, with multiple restaurants, entertainment, promenade decks, attentive service.

The legendary ships in the period between 1870 and early 1900 were the “Daniel Drew”, “Dean Richmond”, “Hendrick Hudson”, “The Adirondack”, “The Berkshire”, “The Peter Stuyvesant”, “The DeWitt Clinton” and “The New York”. The People’s Night Line grew in popularity into the early 1930s.

The iconic ticket office of the Day Line was built in the early 1900s on Broadway. Mr. Elmendorf, the ticket master, was a legendary figure in downtown for decades.

The Hudson Navigation Co. invested in major docking and sheds in Steamboat Square (an area for passenger boat landings from the early 1800s) in 1918.

But ultimately the proliferation of the automobile, better roads, and improvements in railroads and better amenities killed the Hudson River steamship lines.

DURANT’S AMAZING 1833 BALLOON “ASCENSION”

Charles Ferson Durant (born Sept. 19, 1805 – died, Mar. 2, 1873) has been called “America’s First Aeronaut,” and the “father of air leafleting.” (Balloon flight had been the rage in Europe for fifty years before Durant hopped into a basket and attempted it in America. (There had been an incident of a balloon flight in the States prior to Durant, in 1793, but the balloonist was French, not American.)

On July 9, 1824 the French aeronaut Eugene Robertson made a balloon ascension at Castle Garden in New York in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette. An 18-year-old New Yorker, Charles Ferson Durant, became so enthusiastic at witnessing Robertson’s ascension that he followed the Frenchman to Paris. There they made two ascensions together in 1829. The young American then returned to New York and was the first U. S. citizen to become a professional aeronaut in this country.

He was also the first person to use balloons which were made in America. In his career he made a total of 13 flights, the first one, on September 9, 1830 from the same place where Robertson had made his start in 1825. The interest of the public and of the New York Press was so great that he made a second flight soon afterwards, on September 22, 1830.

Always embellished with a great deal of spectacle, Durant’s flights were a mixture of showbiz and science. After smarting from footing the bill for preparatory expenses at his first ascension, Durant learned to solicit underwriters for the event several weeks in advance.

This post ran in the Albany Evening Journal on July 25, 1833:

“Mr. Durant is an American – a native of New York, where he is engaged in business, and sustains an unblemished reputation. The interest universally taken by the most intelligent and respectable citizens of that place, in his success, is a sufficient voucher for his worth. He is studying his serial profession as a science, which he entertains sanguine hope of reducing to purposes of practical utility. Mr. D. Has made six ascensions, all from New York Castle Garden. It has been his good fortune never to disappoint an audience either by failure or postponement. He superintends, personally, the construction and inflation of his balloons. At his first ascension, so incredulous were his friends and the public, that no person would hazard a dollar of the heavy prepatory expense. He therefore embarked his all in the enterprise, which, most fortunately for him, proved a successful and triumphant display of American genius and intrepidity.”

He found a willing backer in Mr. Leverett Cruttenden, of the Eagle Tavern. Tickets to the event itself were 50 cents apiece, with an audience of from four to six thousand expected. He had barely broken even at his first expositions, but by time he hit Albany he was netting somewhere around $2,000 a show, a tidy sum in 1833.

An amphitheater was erected at the corner of Swan and Fayette (later Lafayette) at “Meek’s Garden” (most likely a bastardization of “Meiggs,” the family who lived there).This wasn’t just Durant climbing into his balloon and flying away, it was a four-hour spectacle, replete with pre-show and live music.

The series of events didn’t much vary from venue to venue.

Here was Albany’s schedule:

1:30 p.m.: Spectators will be admitted, and then witness his apparatus for generating hydrogen gas (barrels of decomposing, water, iron, and sulfuric acid), while he boasted that it would produce ten thousand ft. of hydrogen.

2:00 p.m.: Cannon shots will announce the moment when Durant would begin inflating his balloon.

3:00 p.m.: A small balloon will be set off to determine wind direction.3:30 p.m.: A gold dolphin balloon will sail around the amphitheatre.

4:00 p.m.: A Pioneer Balloon will be set off, carrying the tripcord and the American flags.

4:30 p.m.: Mr. Durant will begin attaching his car to the balloon and making final flight preparations.

5:00 p.m.: Mr. Durant will board the balloon’s basket and then cut the tethers. Durant will wave the star-spangled banner as he gradually and majestically ascends.*

It is not known whether Durant, as he had in his first ascent, prefaced his flight by floating near ground level and tossing out handbills to the spectators. On his second flight, he carried his farewell address up with him and dropped them from altitude. He was the first to use air leaflets in America. Durant’s balloon rose to an average altitude of one mile above the river. Because the balloon contained about 800 feet more gas than he intended, it was fully distended, and any attempt to go higher would have led to the balloon’s explosion.

A Mr. Thurber, of Mechanic Hall, Troy, had given Durant several carrier pigeons for the flight, to signal his progress. Here are excerpts from Durant’s flight log:

“Started at 5 hr. 6 min. bar. 30-356 ther. 88 Loosed one pigeon with a paper on which I marked time, height of bar, and ther, with “all’s well” and, unless the wind increases you may expect me in Albany this evening.

At 5 hr. 20 min. over a large creek – sent the inhabitants and Evening Journal.

At 5 hr. 38 min. within hailing distance of the earth Conversed with several men; understood the name of one to be Edward Haswell; that the name of the town was Bethlehem. On enquiring the name of the next large town in the direction I was going, understood him to say Cairo; distant 30 miles; send down a copy of the Address and an Eve. Journal; threw out a ballast and hoped to reach Cairo.

At 6 hr. 4 min. bar. 25 -02- ther.70. Very little wind and the country beyond in my course covered with trees; made preparations to descend; on approaching the earth made two ineffectual attempts to land; threw over each time 20 or 30 lbs. ballast.

At 6 hr. 47 min. the anchor grappled with the earth and brought me to the farm of Mr. Peter Slingerland, half a mile from the village of Stoney-Hill (town of New Scotland [ near Clarksville] ), and 12 miles from Albany; started the other pigeon, which, after hovering for a few minutes about the Balloon, took its flight homeward; – several; gentleman arrived to whom I threw a line and was towed up to the village, and slighted in the meadow of Mr. Slingerland.

Among the gentlemen who assisted me to land and secure the Balloon, were Nicholas Miller, Henry and Albert Slingerland, William and Moses Segar, Matthew Flansburgh and Tunis Slingerland; took tea at the house of C.P Slingerland where I had the pleasure of an introduction to the ladies of the village.

After passing three quarters of an hour pleasantly with my new friends, to whose kindness and hospitality I desire to render my warm acknowledgements, Mr. Moses Slingerlands took me with the Balloon, into his wagon and started for Albany – we soon met Mr. Charles Low of Albany, who left after the Ascension, in pursuit of the Balloon, and who returned with us. On our way back we met with Messrs Ewens’, Burhans, Wand’s and Clark’s and arrive at Mine Hust’s of the Eagle, a few minutes past 11 o’clock.”

Durant had flown 12 miles in 1 hour 47 minutes. He received a raft of accolades for his feat, including this resolution from the electors of the town of New Scotland:

“RESOLVED: That we view the late ascension of Charles F. Durant as one in which the curious and candid were equally pleased – as he passed majestically over some of our rocks and mountains – making a safe and welcome landing in Slingerland’s valley, one of the oldest settled places in the town.”

Here’s a description of the ascension from a young man named James that appeared in Parley’s Magazine on September 14th, 1833.

“I went with my brother to Mr. Meek’s garden last Thursday to see Mr. Durant and his balloon. The day was very pleasant, and the sky bright and clear. There were vast crowds of people assembled, and I could see several women and children on the tops of the houses, all looking out for the balloon. I was afraid some of them would tumble off. Several little balloons, with no one in them, were sent up first..The balloon was tied down to the ground by cords, and seemed to be trying to get away. At about five o’clock, Mr. Durant took his seat, in the car, as it is called. The people now began to shout, and hurrah, and crowd forward to get a sight of him. My brother placed me on his shoulders, so that I was as tall as any of them. At last the cords were cut, and my heart beat as if I were going up in the air myself. The people shouted, and I shouted, and everybody shouted. Mr. Durant waved a flag as he rose. The balloon rose up like a bird, and sailed away till it seemed like a speck. At last it flew out of sight; and, taking me down from his shoulders.”

On August 30, Mr. Durant packed up his gear and left Albany for New York.

“Ascensions” in Boston and Baltimore followed before Durant, heeding the pleadings of his wife, abandoned his aeronautical activities and dedicated himself to experiments with silk culture. During his ballooning years, he collected all the newspaper recountings of his exploits, plus his leaflets and logs. All are available for viewing at the New York Public Library.

*From “Charles F. Durant – Early American Aeronaut, Father of the Propaganda Leaflet” by Dr. Max Kronstein; The Airpost Journal, August, 1944.

Al Quaglieri

Squire Whipple and His Bridges

Squire Whipple

Squire Whipple was born in Massachusetts in 1804, and studied civil engineering at Union College. He remained in Albany and became known as the father of iron bridge building in the mid-1800s in America. He invented the Whipple Truss Bridge and the Whipple Bowstring Bridge.

In 1847 he literally wrote the book that would become the “bible” for iron bridge builders across the world.

Many his bridges have disappeared .. but one example survives around here. It’s the small footbridge over the Normanskill Creek between Albany and Delmar near the Normanskill Farm.

It was built in the late 1860’s, but moved and preserved over the years. Whipple patented his bridge design, but New York State took the design “for the public good”, and built Whipple design bridges all over the state , including the Erie Canal, because they were a terrific design and cheap to build. Whipple bridges are simple, elegant and surprisingly modern looking.

Squire Whipple died in 1888 and is buried in Albany Rural Cemetery in section 41, Plot 19.

Julie O’Connor

African American Men from Albany in the Civil War; the 54th Massachusetts, NYS “Colored Regiments” and 2 African American brothers serve in the 77th “Saratoga Regiment”

By the end of the Civil War roughly 175,000 black men (10% of the Union Army) served as soldiers in the U.S. Army, and another 19,000 served in the Navy. About 4,500 men from New York State served in the War. So far we’ve found the names about 90 men with links to Albany.

Black men were not allowed to serve in the Union Army until 1863 when Massachusetts raised the 54th regiment of “colored troops” in spring 1863. These are the men whose gallantry and courage are portrayed in the movie “Glory”. By early 1864 New York State finally raised 3 regiments of colored troops – the 20th, the 26th and the 31st. About 3,000 men from New York and elsewhere enlisted in this regiments, and in similar regiments mustered in the other Union states. Other Black men served in the Navy before 1863, scattered on various Union ship as cooks and stewards.

The 54th Massachusetts

We’ve identified 10 men from Albany County (mostly from Albany city) who served in the 54th Massachusetts.

  • Charles Bell – age 20, waiter, private
  • William Briggs – age 21, waiter, private
  • William Everson – age 19, laborer, private
  • William Francis – age 30, waiter, private
  • Benjamin Helmus – age 21, waiter, private
  • James Jones – age 33, waiter, mustered out as Sargent
  • Edgar Morgan – age 20, laborer, private
  • Alexander Thompson – age 25 laborer, private
  • John Titus age 21, laborer, private
  • George Alfred Wilson – 23, laborer, private

Bell, Briggs, Everson, Francis, Helmus, Jones, Morgan, Thompson, and Titus went to Massachusetts, and enlisted as a group on March 29, 1863, and became part of Company E. All but two of the of the men, Bell and Wilson, are identified as being present at the attack of the 54th on Fort Wagner in Charleston, South Carolina. Although the attack was unsuccessful it proved to the nation that Black men could fight with courage, bravery and skill. The Confederate soldiers buried the dead Union soldiers in a mass grave, and in a gesture of utter contempt, threw the body of their white commander Col. Robert Gould Shaw in the same pit. Later Shaw’s father wrote, “We would not have his body removed from where it lies surrounded by his brave and devoted soldiers. … We can imagine no holier place than that in which he lies, among his brave and devoted followers, nor wish for him better company. – what a body-guard he has.”

While some of the men from Albany were wounded, all but one survived – William Briggs died from his wounds a number of days after the battle. Some of the wounds were horrendous, and left many of the men serious disabilities from gunshot and bayonet wounds.

Alexander Hill from Hudson died in Albany in 1876; his death was attributed to the wounds received at Fort Wagner.

NYS Colored Regiments

The 20th, the 26th and the 31st regiments were raised in in New York City in Spring 1864. While many people were not totally on board with NY establishing African American regiments the State was having difficulty meeting its enrollment quotas, and the draft was despised. We’ve identified about 50 men who were born or lived in Albany County who served in these regiments.

Most of the Albany men were members of the 20th and 26th regiments, the first two established. Many of the volunteers were from outside of the city; farmers and laborers from Bethlehem, Coxsackie, Rennselaerville, etc. Most were in their late teens or early 20s. We need to do more research to find out more, but we can tell you some about two of the men.

William Latour was an older man, age 38, and a barber when he enlisted in the 26th NY (CT). His father Henry was born enslaved on the farm owned by the French aristocrat émigré the Marquis de La tour du Pin who fled to this area in the 1790s after escaping the guillotine in the French Revolution. When they purchased their farm in Watervliet Madame La Tour was shocked that General Schuyler and others advised that they would be unable to sustain the farm without slaves. It appears that when the family sold the farm before their return to France in 1798 they freed those they had enslaved. (There is no mention of slaves in the description of the farm used for the sale.) Most of the those previously enslaved made their way to Albany city, and appear as free people in the very early city directories. Henry was one of the Black men who attended the first New York State Colored Convention held in Albany in 1840, and played a pivotal role in aiding the escape of the fugitive Charles Nalle in Troy NY in 1859. (In the nick of time Henry arrived with a wagon and whisked him away, with the help of Harriet Tubman.)

Sylvester Dorsey was born in Ithaca and enlisted in the 26th in 1864. He was also 38. After the War he settled in Albany (we think that there was a family relationship with the family of John Titus who served with the 54th Massachusetts). In Albany he married Frances Johnson, a member of a leading Black Albany family. He was a blacksmith by trade, and in 1879 he was the armorer for the Albany Zouave Cadet Company (which would become part of the 10th NYS National Guard). In 1910 the history of the Company was published and this description of Sylvester Dorsey in 1879 appears:

“Many of the exempts (note: this means members of the Company) will remember the faithful old servitor, and will the dispute the truth of the present day saying about all “coons” looking alike. Dorsey has an individuality all his own, and as the members of the old Guard conjure up his shining ebony face there will come trooping many recollections of happy days gone…”

(By 1879 many members of the Company were young and merely “playing” at being a soldier, yet Sylvester Dorsey had actually served in the War.)

Other Colored Troop Regiments

Based on information from various data bases we found another 40 or so additional African American men born in Albany who served in the other “colored” regiments across the North and in the Union navy who enlisted in places as diverse as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Maine.

Black Men Who Served in White Units

No one really knows how many African American soldiers served with white regiments in the Civil War. A low estimate is about a 1,000, and they are thought to have been mostly “contrabands”, enslaved men who made it to Union positions, and served as cooks and officer valets and stewards in white regiments.

But what we found turns that theory on its head. In late summer 1861, at the very start of the War, African American brothers born in Albany enlisted in the 77th NY (the “Saratoga Regiment”). They were William Topp Lattimore and Benjamin Franklin Lattimore. Their grandfather, Benjamin Lattimore, who had been one of the few Black Revolutionary War soldiers, settled in Albany in the late 1790s. He had been instrumental in creating the first African school in the city and had been a major mover and shaker in the Black community. His son, Benjamin Lattimore, Jr., followed in his father’s footsteps. He was an active member of Albany’s African American political and social community, an ardent abolitionist and a member of Albany’s Underground Railroad (UGRR). In 1847 he pulled up stakes and moved his large family to a farm he purchased in Moreau N.Y. in Saratoga County just south of Glens Falls. There he continued his UGRR activities.

By the time the War started both William (Billy as he was called) and Benjamin had lived in Moreau for 14 years. They enlisted and fought side by side with the white men with whom they had gone to school and church. Benjamin served one enlistment and returned to the farm.

Billy re-enlisted (he may have been the only African American soldier, or one of a few who served at Gettysburg), and was seriously wounded at Fort Stevens in 1864. After the War Ben became a rolling stone, traveling across the country, finally ending up as a porter at a San Francisco Hotel for several decades. Billy first went to New York City and then came back to the farm after his father died in 1873. For the rest of his life he would remain proud of his military service and was an active member of the 77th NY GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) Association for Union Army veterans. He attended every encampment and reunion, and often served as an officer of the Association.

We aren’t sure if the enlistment of the Lattimore brothers is a complete anomaly or similar enlistments happened across the North. We do know, based on picture of Billy in a large GAR re-union he was very light skinned (the family is listed variously as Black or Mulatto in different census data.) There is no indication in any military active service or pension records that either brother was not white. It’s a mystery that’s worth pursuing.

Here is the list we have so far of Albany men who served in colored regiments

  • Anthony, Fleetwood – 29th NY CT
  • Baker, Charles – 26th NY CT
  • Becker, John Henry – 20th NY CT
  • Brent, William – 2nd Cav CT
  • Brown, Jackson – 20th NY CT
  • Bulah, Joseph – 11th Heavy Artillery CT
  • Burns, William – 26th NY CT
  • Cain, Andrew – 26th NY CT
  • Cane, David – 26th NY CT
  • Ceasar, John – 31st CT – KIA in Petersburg
  • Champion, Theodore – 26th NY CT
  • Cisco, John 20th – NY CT (also listed as 31st CT)
  • Crummel (Cromwell?), James – 5th Heavy Artillery CT
  • Curtis, Milo – 20th NY CT
  • Dickson, Albert – 26th NY CT
  • Dickson, Peter – 20th NY CT
  • Dickson, Richard – 26th NY CT
  • Dickson, William – 26th NY CT
  • Diffenderf, Henry – regiment unknown
  • Dixon, Robert – 26th NY CT
  • Dorcey, Abraham – 20th NY CT
  • Fletcher, Harvey – 26th NY CT
  • Green, Zebulon – 11th Heavy Artillery CT (also appears to be listed as sailor and 24th CT)
  • Groomer, Solomon – 26th NY CT
  • Habbard, Luther – 26th NY CT
  • Harding, George – 8th CT
  • Hallenbeck, William – regiment unknown
  • Holland, George – 20th NY CT
  • Harding, Morris – 26th NY CT
  • Holland, George – 20th NY CT
  • Holmes, Poliver – 26th NY CT
  • Houzer, Richard – 3rd CT
  • Ingold, George – 29th NY CT
  • Jackson, Charles – 11th Heavy artillery CT
  • Jackson, Jacob – 26th NY CT
  • Jackson, Jerod – 26th NY CT
  • Jackson, John – 31st CT
  • Jackson, Joseph – 26th NY CT
  • Jackson, Prime – 31st CT
  • Jackson, Robert – 26th NY CT
  • Jackson, Samuel – 26th NY CT
  • Jackson, William – 26th NY CT
  • Jackson, William Henry – 11th heavy artillery CT
  • Jarris, Henry – 26th NY CT
  • Johnson, Daniel – 26th NY CT
  • Johnson, Henry – 20th NY CT
  • Johnson, William – 44th NY (may be in accurate)
  • Johnston, Henry – 24th CT
  • Jones, Davis – 20th NY CT
  • Jones, Solomon – 1st CT and 1st CT Cavalry
  • Keyser, Zacariah – 26th NY CT
  • Kniskern, Harrison – 61st NY (may be inaccurate)
  • Lavendar, Benjamin – 11th Heavy Artillery CT
  • Lawyer, George – 20th NY CT
  • Lewis, Peter – 26th NY CT
  • London, George – 26th NY CT
  • London, Michael Thomas – 26th NY CT
  • Manuel, Charles – 26th NY CT
  • Marco – 30th NY – probably inaccurate
  • Moore, John – 41sr CT (New Hampshire)
  • Morgan, Henry – 11th Heavy Artillery CT
  • Morgan, Luther- 20th NY CT
  • Murphy, Charles – 20th NY CT
  • Nash, James 20th NY CT
  • Nash, Samuel – 26th NY CT
  • O’Neil, William – 26th NY (also listed with 31st CT)
  • Panton, Charles – no regiment listed CT
  • Raymond, J.S – 5th CT cavalry (Mass) CT
  • Richard, Hart – 26th NY CT
  • Richard, Scott – 26th NY CT
  • Rix, Ambrose – 144th NY (probably inaccurate)
  • Rondout, John – no regiment listed
  • Saulter, Isaac – 26th NY CT
  • Sawyer, George – 30th CT
  • Scott, Richard – 30th CT
  • Smith, William – 8th CT
  • Smoke, Josiah – 20th NY CT
  • Smoke, William – 31st CT
  • Snyder, Thomas – 18th NY (probably inaccurate)
  • Spanberg (Speanbergh), Henry – 91st NY (probably inaccurate)
  • Sternbergh, Lorenzo – 26th NY CT
  • Sternberg, William – 26th CT
  • Stewart, John – 26th NY CT
  • Stewart, William – 29th NY CT
  • Sutphen, James – 31st CT
  • Swan, Elisha – 26th NY CT
  • Sylix, Andrew – 20th NY CT
  • Teabout, Joseph Henry – 11th heavy artillery CT
  • Ten Eyck, Anthony – 20th NY CT
  • Thompson, John – 20th NY CT
  • Thompson, Prime – 26th NY CT
  • Thompson, Lysander – 26th NY CT
  • Tilson, John – 26th NY CT
  • Titus, George – regiment unknown
  • Van Cruren, Peter – 6th cavalry CT
  • Van Slyke, John – 26th NY CT
  • Van Slyke , Samuel – 20th NY CT
  • Vroman, Daniel – 26th NY CT
  • Ward, Phillip – 31st CT
  • Weddington, George – 20th NY CT
  • White, John – 11th Heavy Artillery CT
  • Wilbur, Noruse – 26th NY CT
  • Williams, Henry – 20th NY CT
  • Williams, James – 20th NY CT
  • Wilson, Frank – 8th CT
  • Wright, Major – 26th NY CT

Julie O’Connor

The Rev. Nathaniel Paul and the Pauls of Albany

Recently there was an amazing find at Albany Rural Cemetery by Paula Lemire, Cemetery Historian – the discovery of the gravestone of the Rev. Nathaniel Paul. It’s been restored by Christopher White.

So we thought we would take the opportunity to tell you why the discovery and restoration are so important.

The Rev. Nathaniel Paul was part of an African American family that had a major impact on the Black community not only in Albany, but in this country, in the early 1800s. Their work was foundational- it echoes into the present day. The Paul brothers were among a small number of Black men who, very early in the 19th century, saw their role as helping African Americans transition into a society of empowered and independent men and women, no longer bound by slavery.

These men and women deserved equal rights, but in this temporal world they would have to advocate for themselves. It was also the mission of the Paul brothers to those who had been freed understand that it was their responsibility to ensure that others gain their freedom. The ministers in the newly created safe spaces of the Black churches were preaching what we would call today “Liberation Theology”. Theirs was a potentially dangerous game – the ideas that slavery should be abolished in the U.S. , and African Americans were worthy of equal rights were incendiary and terrifying to many – to powerful whites and especially those whites without power.

Rev. Paul was born about 1795 in New Hampshire. We know his father had been enslaved, but appears to have gained his freedom through service in the Revolutionary War. Four sons became Baptist ministers: Thomas (the eldest), Nathaniel, Benjamin and Shadrach. Shadrach remained in New Hampshire while Thomas, Nathaniel and Benjamin found their way to congregations in Boston, Albany and New York City.

The three brothers would create a network that spanned the population centers of the Northeast, align themselves with other Black men, and find white men and women as allies. Thomas became the pastor of the Boston’s African Meeting House (later known as the Joy Street Baptist church) in 1805. In 1808 he also would be one of the founders of the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City.

Historians think Nathaniel may have joined Thomas as some point in Boston, where he married, but then moved on to Northampton Mass. Nathaniel came to Albany with his wife about 1820 at the invitation of the minister of the local Baptist Church. By 1821 many of the Black congregants left that church and established the Albany African Baptist Society, which would become the African Baptist Church (a/k/a the Hamilton Street Church). Soon his brother Benjamin joined him in the city., and he helped to establish a school for African children attached to the church.

Over the next decade Nathaniel Paul became well known not only in Albany (he was appointed one of the chaplains of the NYS Legislature), but in the entire Northeast. He, along with his brother Thomas in Boston, preached about the evils of slavery and the need for abolition. Keep in mind at that this time there were still people enslaved in New York (including Albany) waiting for the general statewide abolition scheduled for 1827.

And when Abolition arrived there was a major celebration in Albany among the Black population. Hundreds of African Americans thronged the streets in a dignified and stately procession. The culmination of the event was an oration by Nathaniel on the Abolition of Slavery in the Hamilton St. Church. It was re-printed in a number of newspapers, and copies sold in bookstores in Albany and other cities. Meanwhile Nathaniel Paul was a busy man. He was an agent for Freedom’s Journal, the first newspaper in U.S. published by an African American (so was his brother Thomas in Boston). He was also a key player in an early court case in Albany, along with several of his congregants, that resulted in the freedom of Elizabeth Cummings, an African American woman who had been snatched off the Baltimore streets, and was in the process of being sold into slavery.

His brother Benjamin left Albany in 1824 to become the pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City, and there was a synergy between the Black communities in the three cities (Albany, Boston and New York) with the three Paul brothers in the pulpits of the major churches. Freedom’s Journal said of Nathaniel Paul that he had been successful in “…improving the moral and class of the community which has been too long neglected”. “To prepare men for liberty their minds must be enlightened to their own rights and duties which they owe to the community.”

The next act of Nathaniel’s life would come about as a result of his brother Benjamin. Benjamin became one of the Board of Managers of the Wilberforce Colony in Ontario Canada. The colony was established as a refuge for African Americans in Ohio who were increasingly subjected to harsh and discriminatory laws. It was named after William Wilberforce, a British MP who succeeded in abolishing the slave trade (and whom Nathaniel’s brother Thomas had met on a trip to England in 1815). Benjamin settled in the e Colony and Nathaniel followed; it was time for him to move on. He had done good work in Albany, but his wife had died about a year before, and the Colony was a place where he could continue that work. He settled there and quickly established an African Baptist Church.

The colony wasn’t self-sustaining and financial support was necessary. The managers decided to send Nathaniel Paul to Great Britain to fund raise. He would spend the years from about 1832 to 1835 traveling through England and Scotland. It was a revelation; he didn’t experience the racism and discrimination he’d encountered America, and was treated with dignity and respect. He re-married a white woman, Ann Adey from Gloucestershire. Soon he was joined by William Lloyd Garrison on much of his lecture tour. Garrison had been a friend of his brother Thomas in Boston, was the publisher of the anti-slavery newspaper “The Liberator”, and was emerging as the leading white abolitionist in the United States.

But the trip to Great Britain was a financial failure and Paul returned to America. His brother Benjamin died in Canada in in 1836, and Nathaniel’s relationship with the Colony was over. Nathaniel came back to Albany in 1837 to the African Baptist Church. Sadly, Nathaniel died in 1839. The members of the Church provided a simple yet moving headstone, with the following epitaph:

SACRED To the memory of REV. NATH.L PAUL.

First Pastor of the Hamilton StreetBaptist CHURCH in this City

Born in Exeter N.H. Jan. 7th 1795

Died in the Faith & triumph of the Gospel July 16th 1839

Having experienced Religion in the morning of life.

He was early employed in the Vineyard of his Divine Master & continued until his decease a Laborious, Faithful, & Efficient Minister of the CROSS.

Emulating the spirit & example of the Saviour like him.

He also partook in degree a similar recompense!

For The Servant is not greater than his LORD.A Distinguished Minister & Philanthropist: A Martyr to his indefatigable exertions in the Cause of Truth & suffering Humanity.

Removed in the midst of his days & usefulness his cherished Memory will remain enshrined in the hearts of His sorrowing Widow, attached People, the Churches and Ministers of Christ With a Large circle of Friends.

“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, From Henceforth, yea saith the Spirit, that they may Rest from their Labours: and their works do Follow them.

Rev. XIV. 13. They mourn the dead who live as they desired.

On his death “The Liberator” published the following:

“DEATH OF REV. NATHANIEL PAUL. The decease of this estimable and eloquent colored brother, who was pastor of the Hamilton-street Baptist church in Albany, is announced in the daily papers of that city. Mr. Paul was in almost constant companionship during our sojourn in London, a few years since, and to his active and efficient co-operation were we greatly indebted for the triumphant success. “

His widow Ann remained in Albany until at least 1841 (living on Madison Ave, below Swan St.) while she assembled a collection of her husband’s writings, with a view to publication by Garrison, but nothing came of the effort. (The Rev. Nathaniel Paul’s legacy is the sermon he delivered On July 5, 1827 on the need for abolition which is still read today.) By 1850 she had moved to Northampton where she died in 1853.

But that was not the end of the Paul family in Albany. In 1840 the city would agree to open a public school for “colored” children. The first principal of this new Wilberforce School in 1841 would be Thomas Paul Jr. son of Nathaniel’s brother Thomas. Thomas was one of the first the first Black graduates of Dartmouth College, and had worked as a printer’s apprentice for William Lloyd Garrison. He remained in Albany for a number of years; there was a disagreement with the school supervisors and he was terminated. He went to teach Boston, but about 3 decades later he would return briefly to Albany’s Wilberforce School.

While in Albany he would live with some of his uncle Benjamin’s family. Two of Benjamin’s sons, Benjamin Jr. and Shipherd (also known as Samuel) made their home in Albany, and were deeply involved in the fight for abolition and equal rights for African Americans, including participation in the Underground Railroad.

Julie O’Connor

Albany’s Whitehall Palace and Whitehall Road

The origins of Whitehall Rd. are somewhat murky, but it may originally have been a narrow track through the forest used by the Mahican Indians who lived along the Normanskill Creek. Its use as a dirt road for early colonial settlers probably dates back to the early 1700s. We know that about 1750 there was a barracks, stable and drill ground constructed for British troops during the French and Indian War near corner of Delaware Ave. (It’s location in old genealogies is identified as 150 yards west of Delaware Ave., on Whitehall Rd.)

In the late 1750s the site was enlarged by Col. John Bradstreet. Bradstreet was dispatched to Albany as deputy quartermaster for the British forces in North America. It was one of two storage depots – the other was in Halifax Nova Scotia, but Albany was the closest spot to the upstate frontier in the war with the French in Canada. (That’s probably when it acquired the name Whitehall. At that time Whitehall in London was the home of British government offices. The Albany site was often the home of British military government – where British commanders in North American, Lord Loudon and then Lord Amherst, and their officers often stayed while in Albany.

Bradstreet became great friends with General Philip Schuyler. The route from the Schuyler home on South Pearl and State St. and then new Mansion in the Pastures, would have lead down to “Whitehall Rd.” and then west to what is now Delaware Ave. (It became Second Ave. circa 1873.). It was the route used by Bradford and Schuyler used to travel to each other homes. The area west of Delaware Ave, intersection was called the Normanskill Rd. until about 1800.

At some point Bradstreet purchased the property from the Patroon (along with about another 20,000 acres scattered throughout the area) since it was part of the Manor of Rennselaerwyck. Despite his close relationships with American colonists, Bradstreet sided with the British in the Revolutionary War, and departed for New York City, where he died in 1774.

The property passed to John Bradstreet Schuyler (son of Philip Schuyler) in Bradstreet’s will. During the Revolution is was thought to be a hideout for Tories who came down from the Helderberg Mountains. Supposedly, this was the area where the British attackers massed before they invaded the Schuyler Mansion, attempting to kidnap General Philip Schuyler in 1781 (the raid that left the gouge in the Mansion staircase).

In 1789 the Broadstreet house and property were purchased by Leonard Gansevoort. He was from an old, and Albany Dutch aristocratic family and had amassed great wealth. He had a long career in politics and the law, had been a member of the Continental Congress, was the brother of the Revolutionary War General Peter Gansevoort (the “Hero of Fort Stanwix”), and the great uncle of author Herman Melville. Documents indicate that the legal work for the purchase was probably handled by Alexander Hamilton.

After a large fire swept through much of downtown Albany in 1793 destroying the Gansevoort home, they moved to the Whitehall property, Gansevoort enlarged it quite substantially, turning it into a proper mansion, designed for entertaining on a large scale. It was “statement” home meant to impress. It was immense (supposedly (100 ‘ x 70’), with two wings and four verandas on two stories running front and back. The Great Hall gave way to a grand dining room, a family dining room and a library; the other wing held reception rooms and a grand ballroom. Off to the side was the “Dood Kamer”, which, according to Dutch custom, was a room reserved for laying out the dead. The second floor including bedrooms and family sitting rooms. The Whitehall “Palace” as it came to be known was richly paneled with mahogany and other exotic woods. It was filled with imported china, silver, and silk and damask for drapes and upholstery. There were formal and wild gardens, riding trails and extensive farmland in the thousand acres surrounding the property. It was a self-contained compound, with many out buildings and stables. (Think of the historical documentaries about British grand houses – that was the Whitehall Palace. ) And to run the vast Palace, there were, in 1800, 13 people enslaved by Gansevoort.

In 1810 Gansevoort died and the property passed on to his daughter Magdalena, married to Jacob Ten Eyck. She continued her father’s lavish lifestyle for the next 20 or so years. There are stories of streams of carriages of the Albany wealthy making their way over the Bethlehem Turnpike (Delaware Ave.) to glittering events at the Palace. As Magadelena and Jacob grew older they remained in the house, but started to sell off their land. Many of the farmers who purchased the land over the years were German (Kobler, Friebel, Etling, Klapp, Werker and Swarts. If you look carefully you can still see 3 or 4 older residences in the neighborhood that were original farm houses.) By the mid-1830s the street name appeared on maps appears as Whitehall Rd, and extended to the New Scotland Plank Rd.

In 1883 the Palace burned to the ground; by then it was referred to as the Ten Eyck Mansion.

A smaller house was built at 73 Whitehall Rd., surrounded by an area then known as Ten Eyck Park/Whitehall Park. This area was bounded by what is now Matilda St., Ten Eyck Ave., and Whitehall Rd. In 1909 the building was the Washington Hotel, but has been a residence for the past century.

By 1911 the Whitehall Park Development for “working men” was established on Sard and McDonald Roads, and residential development in the Whitehall Rd. began in earnest and continued steadily for the next 50 years. Within 5 years that area, which had been part of the town of Bethlehem was annexed into the city of Albany. It would not be until the 1960s, after a number of annexations through the decades, that both sides of Whitehall Rd. from Delaware Ave. to New Scotland Ave. would become part of the city.

.Julie O’Connor

Albany’s Strand Movie Theater

The Strand was a classic, old school gorgeous and elegant movie house on North Pearl and Monroe Streets, close to the First Reformed Church. It started off in the era of the silent movies, and would have an orchestra and/or an organ to provide the background music, performances and sing-a-longs for the audience. It was built by and owned by Warner Bros. for decades (along with two other movie theaters in the city – the Madison in Pine Hills and the Delaware on Delaware Ave (now the Spectrum).

The Strand was the first theater in the City to show Al Jolson in “The Jazz Singer”, the first widely successful “Talkie. Once it made the transition it had a couple of of renovations and to Talkies, and endured for another four decades until its demolition in 1970. The Strand was one of two first run movie theatres in the city showing the block busters of the day. It also served as a venue for a variety of live events over the years- from beauty contests to cooking shows.