The Bicentennial Tablets – Where are they now? Tablet No. 7—First English Church

 

In 1886 the 200th anniversary of Albany becoming a chartered city was celebrated with great fanfare. Memorial plaques (tablets) were placed around the city at historic sites.

Tablet No. 7—First English Church

The “tablet committee” proposed that 7 be located in the walk, near the curb, north-west corner of Chapel and State Streets. It was a bronze tablet, 11×23 inches, set in the top of a granite block 21×33 inches square and 16 inches high above the sidewalk, and would have a slanting top to shed water. It would read:

“Opposite in middle of State street stood the First English Church Erected A. D. 1715—Removed and Rebuilt as St. Peter’s church 1803 on next corner west. Rebuilt 1859.”

There is no longer a northwest corner of Chapel and State, although we suspect Chapel still exists on paper. It is a driveway between the Hilton Hotel and the bank building that holds down the Elm Tree corner. There are notable markers nearby in the center islands, thoughtfully placed so that pedestrians waiting forever for drivers to acknowledge the walk signals have something to read while they wait.

A 1914 report in the Albany Argus notes that while the Bicentennial Report said this tablet was to be set in the northwest corner of Chapel and State streets, it was never placed there, “but a tablet with a more elaborate inscription was placed on the front wall of St. Peter’s church.” This would explain why the tablet at St. Peter’s doesn’t say what the committee said it would. The tablet that was actually cast looks entirely different from the other bicentennial tablets, and includes much more church history.

“In the middle of State, formerly Yonkers Street, one block below, stood the First English Church, built A.D. 1715, upon ground granted by letters patent from King George the First. It bore the name of St. Peter’s Church. The Parish was incorporated A.D. 1769. The Second St. Peter’s Church was built on this Site A.D. 1802, and bore this inscription: Glory be to the Lord, for He is good; for His mercy endureth forever. The present edifice was built A.D. 1859. Upon this spot stood the north east bastion of Fort Frederick.”

The First English Church

Recall that despite the colony having been taken under English rule in 1664, Albany was Dutch, Dutch to the core, and a few English soldiers and government officials didn’t change that. In 1704, Albany was described to Church of England clergy in New York as:

“A large frontier town where most of the people are Dutch, who have from Amsterdam a Dutch minister, one Mr. Lydius, but there are some English families, besides a garrison of Soldiers, who are a considerable congregation. A Church of England minister here will, in all probability do signal service, not only by setting up public worship to the joy and comfort of the English, who impatiently desire a minister, and persuading the Dutch and others to conform, but also instructing the Indians which come in greater numbers thither.” Hooper’s “A History of St. Peter’s Church in the City of Albany,” p. 85, referring to “Doc. Hist. N.Y. Vol. III, p. 117”

It would be 1708 before an English church clergyman, Rev. Thomas Barclay, would be commissioned at the fort, which then contained a garrison of 200 soldiers. Barclay was also named missionary to Native Americans who came to Albany, as well as the enslaved persons (which made up about 450 of Albany’s 4000 people in 1712). Barclay wrote in 1710 that he was catechising “a great many Dutch children, who at my first arrival were altogether ignorant of the English tongue,” as well as preaching at Schenectady’s garrison of 40 soldiers as well as 16 English families and 100 Dutch; there had been no Dutch minister there for five years. In Albany, Lydius, the Dutch minister, died in March 1710, with no replacement for more than a year. The English church services were taking place in a “much decayed” small chapel belonging to the Dutch church.

In 1714, Governor Robert Hunter granted license to Rev. Barclay to collect money for the building of a church “in the centre of the broad street called Yonkers Street, leading from the fort to the waterside, between the end of Pearl Street and the small street that leads to the Lutheran Church.”

It was later decided that a location on the hill nearer the fort would allow more room for church and cemetery. But still, being Albany, the center of the street seemed a perfectly reasonable place to put a church.

Hooper writes that “soon after the patent was received, workmen began to lay out the plot granted in the middle of the street.” This site would lead to a dispute between the province of New York, which granted the patent, and the City of Albany, which determined that “the right of the Crown to convey land without any title from the City ought to be tested.” Work on the foundation had begun in November 1714, and legal battles ensued, with Albany taking legal action against workmen at the site. The issue was ultimately resolved in the church’s favor, and the church opened Nov. 25, 1716.

The Second Church: St. Peter’s

By 1796, according to Hooper, it was recognized that the congregation had outgrown the original church. Now known as St. Peter’s, they already had rights to purchase a lot at Barrack (Chapel), Steuben, Lodge and Pine Streets. The sale/exchange was complicated – church properties were assessed in those days, and there was the matter of wanting the old church’s steeple left standing, for it was from there that the fire bell rang. There were other matters under consideration, such as the potential joining of the Lutherans, who used the same church building, with the English Episcopalians, such that the matter was put off for some years. It would be January 1802 before there was a contract made with Philip Hooker, Elisha Putnam, Garrett W. Van Schaick and Samuel Hill to “erect, build and complete a stone Church on the lot of ground in the first ward of the City of Albany at the intersection of State and Lodge streets.” The church was to be completed by June 15, 1803. A new cornerstone was laid May 7, 1802.

“When the first St. Peter’s was torn down, the bodies of all those buried within the church were carefully removed and re-interred under the tower of the second building. Among them were the remains of the gallant Lord Howe, who fell at Trout Brook, July 6, 1758, in the campaign against the French. A payment of seventeen dollars and a half ($17.50), was made to Adam Todd, the sexton, ‘for raising, removing, and interring, the remains of 35 persons from the interior of the old Church in State Street when demolished to the new Church now building.”

Thanks to contributor Adrian Brisee we have additional evidence that the bodies were, in fact moved, in the form of a record made in a Stevenson/Douw family bible. John Stevenson (1735-1810), a warden of the church who laid the cornerstone, wrote:

“In the beginning of July 1802, the workmen began to take down St. Peter’s Church in this City, and on the 19th instant, I had the bones of my Father and five of my Children, taken up, and put into a new coffin, and interred in the new St. Peter’s Church near the centre of the North Hall, back of the pulpit, and had a silver plate put on it, with this incription, to wit:

‘In this coffin are the bones of my father James Stevenson Esq., who died 2d February 1769, and was buried in the Episcopal St. Peter’s Church, and when it was taken down they were removed to the new Episcopal Church, called St. Peter’s. In this coffin are also the bones of five of my children. Albany 19 July 1802.’

[signed] John Stevenson

A marble slab was to be placed above the pediment of the main entrance.

The Third Church

Construction on the third church, designed by Richard Upjohn of New York City, began in 1859, with demolition completed and the first foundation stone for the new church laid by April 8. In the course of that demolition, they discovered a somewhat mysterious stone, four feet long and one foot thick. “Upon its face cut in are the following letters of an ancient form, A.M.S. and A.N.O. joined together as one letter, bearing date, 1715.” Hooper says there is no record of laying any cornerstone for the first church, and that the stone work of that building was taken by Hooker and Putnam in partial payment. “It seems strange that a relic like that should have been allowed to be built into the foundation, if the authorities of St. Peter’s were aware of its value. It may not have been connected with the church, but a stone from the old fort, as the north-east bastion and other parts of the fort enclosure occupied the site of the present church. The stone does not appear to have been preserved.” In other words, we found a mysterious but potentially important stone, we didn’t know what it was about, and we lost it again.

On June 29th, 1859, with the foundation walls nearly completed, there was a large ceremonial placement of the new cornerstone, along with “a proper lead box to be placed under the stone, and a silver plate with a proper inscription to be deposited in that box, with such documents and other articles as the Committee may deem proper.”

What they deemed proper included “the Bible and Prayer Book, the New York Convention Journal for 1858, photographs of the old church, a list of pew holders, a diagram of the old church, and a silver plate upon which was inscribed a brief record of the laying of the corner stone, the names of those connected with the building of the new church, and a concise history of the parish.” The first service in the new church was held September 16, 1860. While there have been some significant renovations, including the erection of the tower in honor of John Tweddle and interior renovations, the church still stands and functions some 160 years later.

By Carl Johnson, from his blog Hoxsie.org

More in the series – The Bicentennial Tablets from 1886 – where are they now?Bicentennial Tablet No. 8 – St. Mary’s Church

Continuing with the eighth in our series covering the tablets that were placed around the city of Albany (and a little beyond) in honor of the bicentennial of the city’s charter, in 1886. This one commemorated the first Catholic church in the city, which came pretty late in the city’s development.

Tablet No. 8—Old St. Mary’s Bronze tablet, 16×22 inches, inserted in wall of present edifice of that name on Pine Street.

Inscription: “Site of Old St. Mary’s Built A. D. 1797. The First Catholic Parish Church in Albany and second in the State. The entrance directly under this Tablet. A Second Building on this Same Spot, Facing on Chapel Street, was the Original Cathedral of this Diocese.”

Martin Joseph Becker’s A History of Catholic Life in the Diocese of Albany, 1609-1864 notes that the first Catholic Mass in New York was Nov. 14, 1655, at Indian Hill, two miles south of what is now Manlius, at what became a mission to the Iroquois. But in the Hudson Valley, Catholics were few — with the notable exception of Thomas Dongan, Catholic governor of New York from 1683-1688, in the time when James II, who had converted to Catholicism, ruled England.

Then, under William and Mary, tolerance of Catholics was no longer official policy, and “Jesuits, priests and popish missionaries” were outlawed in 1700. That situation continued in the colonies until the Revolution, so the only noted Catholics were random immigrants in the Mohawk Valley, and the Iroquois at Akwesasne. After the revolution, New York’s constitution of 1777 allowed all religions, and the ban on priests was eventually lifted in 1784.

In 1796, the Albany Gazette noted the success of a subscription for “erecting a Roman Catholic chapel in this city. It bespeaks the tolerant and liberal disposition of the country, to find out citizens of every persuasion emulous in assisting their Roman Catholic brethren with the means of building here a temple to the God of heaven, in which they can worship according to the dictates of their own consciences. The corporation [city] unanimously resolved to present them with a piece of ground for the site of their church.”

The cornerstone was laid by merchant Thomas Berry Sept. 13, 1797 at a site on what was then called Barrack St, now Chapel St.

Munsell, in his Annals of Albany Vol. 4, includes an article from the Albany Gazette of Sept. 10, 1798, proclaiming, “It is with the most heartfelt satisfaction that we can inform our brethren of the Roman Catholic faith, that their church in this city is so near completed as to be under roof, glazed and floored (fire proof). That it is a neat building, and will be an ornament to the city, and a lasting blessing to all who are members in communion of that church.” ”There were a number of indications that the building, which was built of brick and “fifty feet square,” was completed without being finished, precisely. In Feb. 1807″.

“Notice was given that a sermon would be preached in the Roman Catholic church, on Sunday morning, Feb. 22, by the Rev. Mr. Hurley, for the purpose of raising a collection to assist in finishing the inside of said church.”

It was this first church that was visited by the Marquis De Lafayette on his visits to Albany during his later tour of the United States; it has been repeatedly asserted that he heard mass in the church (from Rev. John Lewis Savage) in June 1825.

It wasn’t terribly long before that church was insufficient for its purpose, and it was replaced with a new church on the same site. The cornerstone for the second St. Mary’s, designed by Philip Hooker, was laid Oct. 13, 1829, and the church opened for services on August 29, 1830. Also constructed of brick, it reportedly cost $31,000. (During construction, the congregation held services in the Lancaster School, the Philip Hooker-designed building on Eagle Street, which would later be the first home of the Albany Medical College.)

In 1847, St. Mary’s became the Cathedral parish for the new Albany Diocese, but only for a short time, as the cornerstone of the Cathedral on Eagle Street was laid July 2, 1848, and the building dedicated Nov. 21, 1852.

The current St. Mary’s Church

Despite that and the development of other Catholic churches, it was decided that a new St. Mary’s was needed, and a cornerstone for a new church was laid August 11, 1867, and the new church dedicated March 14, 1869. (This one faced Lodge Street, instead of Chapel.)

A major, four-year renovation was completed in 1894, overhauling the interior and adding the tower with its iconic “Angel of Judgment” statue. At this time St. Mary’s became the first church building in Albany to have electric lights; they were very proud of having eight different circuits that allowed them to light any section of the church individually.

The third St. Mary’s still stands today. Since then, we presume additional lighting has been installed. Coming late as they did, the Catholics did not have a chance to fill downtown Albany with burials (unlike some other churches). They did have a section at the State Street Burying Grounds (now Washington Park), and in 1867 established their own cemetery, St. Agnes in Menands.

By Carl Johnson, from his blog,  Hoxsie.org

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

Copyright 2021 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

Copyright 2021 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.

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Marquis de Lafayette in Albany

Lafayette’s First Visit to Albany 1778 – Chasing the Wild Goose

During the Revolution, Lafayette was used as a pawn by the Conway Cabal (a group of U.S. military officers seeking to oust General Washington as head of the patriot army). The Marquis was sent to Albany in February and March 1778 to plan an incursion into Canada from Albany. The proposed expedition was nothing more than a ploy to get young and charismatic Lafayette out of the way, and separate him from Washington. He wrote General Washington from Albany and to Governor Clinton about the futility of mounting an expedition. (The long lost letter to Clinton was discovered in Albany almost 60 years ago.) The northern campaign was called off in late March 1778, and Lafayette departed Albany for Valley Forge on March 31.

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Schuyler Mansion

While in Albany he stayed at the Schuyler Mansion, as a guest of General Philip Schuyler, where we assume he met Eliza, who would marry his good friend, Alexander Hamilton, in another 3 years, and he probably met Peggy too. (The third Schuyler sister, Angelica, was in Boston, awaiting the birth of her first child, following her elopement with John Barker Church in 1777.) We assume his chagrin about being dispatched from Washington’s side was soothed by the warmth and abundant hospitality of the Schuyler home and the charms of the Schuyler sisters.

As you can see by the map from 1790 (12 years after Lafayette’s visit), Albany was a still a small city, but no longer a rural outpost. It had become a major port. The downtown streets we know today, State, Pearl and Broadway, were the main arteries of the City. He would have visited the fort at the top of State St. hill where the Capitol is today; the Schuyler aunts, who still lived on one of the corners of State and Pearl, and the Stadt Haus (City Hall) about where the D & H Building is located. All of these were within an easy walk of the Mansion. We think it sort of thrilling to know that you can visit the house where Lafayette lived for over a month and walk the same streets he walked.

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Lafayette’s Second Visit to Albany (a/k/a The Reunion Tour) 1824

In 1824 Lafayette was invited to America by President Monroe to tour all 24 states while celebrating the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Revolution and to instill in Americans the “spirit of 1776”. He received a hero’s welcome all across the country. Albany was no different. Lafayette arrived in the evening of September 17. His carriage and escort were ferried across the Hudson from Greenbush. A large crowd greeted him, and his carriage, accompanied by troops, proceeded under a series of arches welcoming The Hero to the Capitol building (the 1st Capitol, constructed in 1809 – about where the current building is located). There he was met by the Governor and other luminaries. The party traveled a short distance to the home of Matthew Gregory, with whom Lafayette had served during the battle of Yorktown in 1781. A large ball was held in Lafayette’s honor in the Assembly hall, but he “stayed but an hour”, retiring to the Congress Hall Hotel, adjacent to the Capitol.

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On the next day, September 18, the Marquis arose early, and after a brief ceremony, was escorted to his boat, waiting to whisk him to Troy. After ceremonies in Troy, including a visit to Mrs. Willard’s female seminary, he returned to Albany, gathered up his baggage, and was escorted by torch light to the “James Kent” steamboat, waiting to take him back to New York.

There is a plaque in Albany’s Lafayette Park commemorating  LaFayette’s visits to Albany.

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Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Albany and the Seven Years War

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Albany on the Hudson

In 1756 Britain officially declared war on France. The hostilities in North America are generally known as the French and Indian War (since most Native Americans sided with the French).
Before the official declaration there had been major military actions in New York State including an expedition to Crown Point that ended with the Battle of Lake George. With the declaration more British regular troops were sent to the colonies. Many of those ended up in Albany, as did militia men from surrounding states, like Connecticut and Massachusetts since Albany was a “jumping off” point for expeditions north to Canada and west to Niagara held by the French.
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As a result Fort Frederick at the top of State St. hill was re-fortified by the British. Albany became one of the 2 major supply depots (the other was in Halifax, NS). The Army built storehouses, warehouses and powder houses,as well as an armory, a hospital and barracks.
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The occupation of Albany by the British became a constant source of friction. They took city land and billeted soldiers in citizen’s houses. (This is why there is an amendment in the U.S. Constitution against quartering, since it happened not only in Albany , but in Boston and other cities.) Albany’s response seems to have been especially angry, and near riots broke out.
Lord Loudon, who became the second British commander in North America, commissioned an inventory in late 1756 of the householders, and the number of rooms and fireplaces in each residence within the stockade. There were 329 homes. (Two of the houses remain – the Quackenbush House on Broadway and the Van Ostrande-Ratliffe House on Hudson Ave.)
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It’s been estimated that at peak military strength in 1758 British Army regulars and militia men numbered 42,000. Heaven only knows how many funneled through Albany.
Abraham Yates, a member of the Common Council at the time would become head of the Albany Committee on Correspondence in the Revolutionary War (the de facto government). In his journal he complains bitterly about the military presence in the City in the Seven Years War. There is speculation that his experience, as with others, made him especially desirous of throwing off the British yoke of oppression.
In the mid 1750s Albany was mostly a town of Dutch Burghers. So our sleepy little town came alive. Perhaps no other event changed Albany so much, in so many ways. And despite the hostilities with the British command there was money to be made.
There are only few accounts of the time, but it’s clear the War was a boon to merchants and tavern owners. Albany became a boom town, not dissimilar from the gold rush towns of the Old West. The narrow streets were clogged with British regiments, including Scots Highlanders, the guerrilla fighters of Rogers Rangers, Iroquois warriors who sided with the British, and businessman eager to secure military contracts.
Taverns overflowed and drunks spilled into the streets. Dice games became the norm. Charlatans, hucksters, con men and grifters made their way up the River.
Local farmers brought in goods by the wagon load everyday, and the Riverfront was full of ships and barges moving men and supplies (including rum from the British West Indies). The wharves and docks thrummed with activity. Coopers making barrels worked at warp speed, cordwinders (rope makers) were in short supply. Blacksmith forges clanged constantly. Bakeries churned out loaf after loaf, breweries produced prodigious quantities of ale. Industrious Dutch housewives developed side hustles – making cheese, selling eggs, planting larger vegetable gardens.
Along with the soldiers came the women who the British army had hired to cook, and wash and nurse the men. Charlotte Browne was the matron who came to Albany in the early days of the War. Her journal describes a hospital that was little more than “a shed”. When she first arrived the local Dutch women had a low opinion of her, and thought her to be General Braddock’s mistress. (Braddock was the first British commander in the North American theatre of operations.)
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On the hill around the Fort you would see small lean-tos and shanty towns,full of women like Ms. Browne paid by the army, as well as camp followers often married to ordinary soldiers. These women supported themselves (and sometimes their children who traveled with them) as domestic servants for the British officers. It’s quite clear from the writings left by General Braddock that these women were considered to be as much a part of the army, and subject to similar discipline, as the soldiers.
But it was against a back drop of war the scenes on the Albany streets played out. In the early days there must have been much fear as initially British losses mounted; a brutal massacre at Fort William Henry, a loss in Oswego, another at Ticonderoga, and the noose around Albany seemed to tighten. However in 1758 a new British prime minister deployed more troops and the tide turned. The decisive victory was in 1759 in Quebec when British General Wolfe defeated General Montcalm on the Plains of Abraham.
According to Stefan Bielinski in his Colonial Albany Project Albany said Albany was never the same after the War. Some of the newcomers stayed in the city, and it began to change for the first time in about 140 years. But not a lot. Because that’s not the Albany way, and never has been.
Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Slavery in Old Albany

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Slavery has been called “America’s Original Sin”. Sadly, many people think it was a southern thing. It was very much a northern institution as well. Especially in Albany NY.
The first enslaved men were brought to Albany in 1626, only 2 years after it was first settled. Females arrived in what was then Fort Orange in 1630. They were the property of the Dutch West Indies Co., owner of the New Netherland Colony. Soon use of enslaved labor was seen a way to build the Colony since settlers were in short supply.
Rapidly slavery became a source of not only cheap labor, but as a source of capital itself. By the mid 1600s Dutch ships, which ruled the seas, were bringing thousands of men, women and children in chains to New Amsterdam from their colonies in Africa, and the West Indies. Many of enslaved were sold into the South, others were put to work building the cities of Beverwyck, Kingston (Wildwyck) and New York, and many ended up on the huge farms that came to dominate the Hudson Valley from Albany to the Atlantic.
When the British took the Colony in the 1660s the slave trade increased exponentially, and the English began developing more stringent rules governing those they had enslaved- forbidding gatherings of Africans, limits on how far they could travel, etc.
In 1714 the population of Albany was 1,128; of those about 10% (113) were enslaved.
And so it remained in New York until the Revolutionary War and beyond. Slaves were the economic engine of the State. There were thousands. And they were valuable. They were listed in household inventories on the death of their owners, along with horses, feather beds and the good silver. They were chattel. They were part of inheritances. If the second son didn’t inherit the land, he would often be left some enslaved people he could sell to raise money.
As in the South families were separated; husbands from wives and their families; mothers from children. And it’s clear from what little data that does exist, the fathers of many of these children were the slave owners.
The Federal census of 1790 identifies Albany County having 3,722 slaves (and 171 free blacks). That’s the largest number of slaves in any county in any state in the North. (There were were about 21,000 slaves in New York State.)
In 1799 NYS enacted gradual abolition, which emancipated some of those held in slavery, but full freedom for almost all would not come until 1827.
So in the 1800 census there were still 1,800 enslaved and about 350 free people of color in Albany County. In the city, there 5,349 residents; 526 enslaved and 157 free people of color.
Over the years more of those enslaved were freed, but that could be meaningless. Children could be freed, turned over to the town or county by their owners, and then the municipality might very well send the children back to the owner, paying the owner for their room and board in some bizarre foster care system. Adults once freed might have no where to go, so they stayed working for their owners for housing and less than subsistence wages.
I’ve come to think of the early part of the 19th century in Albany, before outright abolition in 1827, as utter chaos for African Americans in the city. Some free Black men were trying to establish a school for their children, while other men were enslaved. Families were still separated, with free men trying to earn enough to buy those members who were still enslaved. Free men sometimes married enslaved women if owners approved.
Stephen Van Rensselaer III, known as “the Good Patroon”, didn’t free Adam Blake Sr., who ran his household, until after after the War of 1812. (Blake was known as the “Beau Brummel” of Albany and for decades the master of ceremonies of Albany’s legendary Pinksterfest.)
I hear people sometimes say, well .. slavery wasn’t that bad in the North. Perhaps the whippings weren’t as bad, maybe you got better food, maybe the mistress of the house made sure your children learned to read the Bible.
But you were property, deprived of freedom and liberty. If you were a slave you were a commodity, as much as a cash crop of wheat or the horse that pulled the plow that planted the wheat.
Women had no agency over their bodies; they were routinely raped. By the 1850 Albany census, more often than not you can find the word “mulatto” (not Black) next to the names of persons of color -the legacy of unwilling unions.

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Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Charles R. Webster, Patriot and Printer

His monument stands at the opening of a little alcove of trees on the old South Ridge. Just behind this shaded space, Glen Cross Bridge once connected Sections 5 and 9.
The monument is one of those simple white obelisks that became so popular as grave markers in the early 19th century. For many years, its inscriptions were obscured by grime, but cleaning has since revealed the words:
In Memory of Charles R. Webster
Born at Hartford, Conn.
September 30, 1762.
Died at Saratoga Springs
July 18th, 1834
Having Been An Inhabitant
Of The City of Albany
For 50 Years.
Instrumental In The
Establishment of The First
Newspaper
In This City, He Was For
Nearly Half A Century
Its Honest and Impartial
Conductor.
Education and Virtue
Had In Him
An Unwearied Supporter
And of Every Institution
To Promote Them
He Was
The Advocate And Friend
His Aim Was
To Have His Life Conformed
To The Great Maxim of The Gospel:
His Prayer
To Have His Heart Right With God
And His Trust In The Merits of The
Redeemed.
A plaque at the foot of the monument honors him as a Revolutionary War Soldier and was placed by the Yosemite Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution National Headquarters
.
Charles R. Webster came from a respectable, but impoverished family, he had been apprenticed to a printer in Hartford at the age of seven. That apprenticeship did not end until he turned twenty-one. At the close of his apprenticeship, he served in the Revolution as a Private in Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Grosvenor’s Company in the 3rd Connecticut Regiment commanded by Colonel Samuel Wyllys.
Within a year of the War’s end, Charles Webster had moved to Albany. He returned to Hartford to marry Rachel Steele in 1787 with whim he had two children.
In Albany, he pursued the printer’s trade, forming a partnership with Samuel Ballantine. Together, they offered a full service of publishing from books to a newspaper, but the partnership dissolved after a year and Charles’ twin brother George joined him in the business.
According to publisher Joel Munsell, there was no permanent printing house north of Fishkill when Webster established himself in the trade in Albany.
Within a few years, Charles Webster was the leading publisher in Albany. In addition to private work and the newspaper, the Albany Gazette, the Federalist-leaning Webster also served as the official provider of printing services to the City of Albany.
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His civic interests were varied; he was active with the Albany Library and the Lancaster School, as well as the founding vice-president of the Albany Mechanics Society and an officer of the First Presbyterian Church.
In 1793, a fire devastated Albany, destroying numerous homes and businesses. In its aftermath, the Webster brothers moved their firm from its original location at State Street and Middle Alley to the corner of State and North Pearl. It was usually known as Elm Tree Corner of the ancient tree planted by Philip Livingston, but was just as often referred to as Webster’s Corner for the yellow wooden printing house at the northwest side.
In 1794, Rachel Steele Webster died after an illness. Two years later, Charles married her sister, Cynthia, and they made their home at 83 State Street.
As evidenced by the inscription on his monument, he was regarded as an esteemed member of the community. He was known as an honest, temperate, and “remarkably laborious man” of simple habits who rose at four in the morning and returned home at nine at night. His pleasure in the evening was to walk along the city’s North Gate or the Pastures to the south or a place known only as “the Willow Walks.” Other evenings might find him in the reading rooms or calling upon old friends or tending to his garden.
His twin brother, George, died in 1823. Charles lived until 1834.
At the time of his death, he had been suffering from a swollen gland on the right side his face followed by a chronic distention of his right arm. He might have, as was common at the time, gone to Saratoga Springs to “take the waters” of the famous mineral springs for his health.
On July 18, 1834, with his wife at his side, he died at the age of 71. His last words were, “Call the family.”
His body was returned to Albany and was buried in what was then the First Presbyterian section of the State Street Burying Grounds (now Washington Park just west of modern Sprague Place). When that cemetery closed, his grave was moved to Albany Rural Cemetery.
Cynthia Steele Webster survived Charles by fourteen years. She died in Orleans County in December 1848.
Webster’s is one of only a few larger monuments transported from their original graves to the Rural. A engraving of it done while still in the old Burying Grounds appears in Volume V of Joel Munsell’s “Annals of Albany.”
Charles R. Webster’s grave is located in Lot 2, Section 8.
Paula Lemire

The Old Elm Tree Corner

For centuries Albany was filled with elm trees. They grew to great heights, and had thick, sturdy trunks. When you walked down a street lined with elms it was if there was a large canopy overhead; a green leafy cathedral ceiling.

Albany’s most famous elm tree was at the intersection of North Pearl and State. It was said to have been planted by Philip Livingston (later to be a signer of the Declaration of Independence) when he was a boy in 1735, in front of his family’s city house. It grew to become an Albany landmark for almost 150 years.

Alas, it was whacked in the name of progress to widen North Pearl St. in 1877. There’s said to be a piece of the tree, safely embalmed, somewhere in the vaults of the Albany Institute of History and Art.

(But it was only a matter of time before it, like 80% of most American elms, would succumb to Dutch Elm disease. It’s called that because the pathogen that causes the disease was first identified in the Netherlands. It was discovered affecting trees in the U.S. in the 1930s, and destroyed millions of elms in a few short decades. It seemed they vanished almost over night. )

Julie O’Connor