General Henry Knox, the Noble Artillery Train and a Cannon Named “The Albany”

The Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area recently placed a new monument at Jennings Landing on the Hudson River marking an Albany stop on the Knox Cannon Trail.

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The story of the Noble Artillery Train is one of ingenuity and pure grit. It was critical to America winning the Revolution.

knox trail 2Colonel Henry Knox started out as a bookseller from Boston who became a colonel (and ultimately a general) in the Continental Army. In fall 1775 someone (Knox or General Washington? – no one knows for sure) came up with a genius idea.

Retrieve the cannon at Fort Ticonderoga (captured by Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys earlier in the year) and at Crown Point, and get them to Boston to assist in the siege of the British Army. George Washington commissioned  the   task to the 25 year old Knox , said it should be done at all costs and allocated 1,000 pounds to cover expenses.

Easier said than done

The Train

It would require a journey of almost 300 miles in the middle of Northeastern winter. The trip took 40 days, crossed a lake, streams and rivers. Much of it was made through knee and waist deep snow.

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The expedition began in late November 1775. 59 cannon and other armaments from the Fort and Crown Point were selected and disassembled. The total weight was about 60,000 tons. The first part of the journey was over Lake George; the cannon were placed on 3 boats (one sank near Sabbath Day Point, but the cannon were retrieved). Knox had his men construct 42 sledges/sleighs to drag the cannon and hired 80 teams of oxen.* It would take weeks to make it to the Albany. It was slow going when there was no snow, but not much easier when it did (on one day there was a 2 ft. snow fall).

knox trail 4 (2)Albany and Thin Ice

Knox was in the advance guard and reached Albany on Christmas. He and his men “were almost perished with cold”. He met with General Philip Schuyler (who was sitting this one out for health reasons). There he negotiated for more oxen, but ended up with horses, and found more men to go north to help bring the cannons south. The first cannons reached Albany on January 4th, 1776.

But the weather had warmed and there was no way to get the cannon and sledges across the Hudson’s thin ice until the weather changed. Knox and some men  spent  New Year’s Day making holes in the Hudson River ice and letting it re-freeze in the hope it would become thick enough to the hold the cannon.

Meanwhile the people of Albany were thrilled to be part of this event, though they had no idea how important in history it would become.

In early January the Train set out again, crossing the Hudson, but not without mishap. One cannon sank, and the people of Albany came to Knox’s rescue.

From Knox’s diary:
(Jan) “8th. Went on the Ice About 8 oClock in the morning & proceeded so cautiously that before night we got over three sleds & were so lucky as to get the Cannon out of the River, owing to the assistance the good people of the City of Albany gave, In return for which we christen’d her – The Albany.”

Who knew? A cannon at the siege of Boston that was named after the “good people of the City of Albany”!

knox trail 5The rest of the journey, through the Berkshires and on to Boston was more slogging through snow. Knox reached Dorchester Heights, a promontory outside of that city, in late January 1776. It took a while but the guns were finally strategically placed, and shelling from the cannon began to rain down on the British ships in the harbor in early March 1776. The British left Boston several weeks later. The end of the siege was tremendous morale booster for the Americans after a 10 month stalemate. But they would suffer through another year and half of mostly defeats before the Battle of Saratoga in October, 1777.

 

Who were the men of the Train?

It’s curious there’s almost nothing known about the specific men who performed a nigh on to impossible achievement for Knox. They weren’t members of the Continental Army regiments (who at that time were engaged in the Battle of Quebec – an American defeat). Knox appears to have brought some engineers with him from Massachusetts, and acquired other men while he made a stop in New York City before proceeding north to Ticonderoga. But we feel sure there must have been some local men, including men from what is now Vermont. Men who knew the terrain, who understood the topography of the land between Lake George, through Saratoga and south.

We know that once Knox reached Albany he recruited additional men to go north to help speed the expedition and found additional men for the next leg of the journey – east to Boston. They were probably men from the Albany County Militia. Sadly, their names are lost to time. They must have been farmers, blacksmiths, carpenters, sail makers (like one of my multi-great grandfathers). Who knows who else? Just part of the great citizen army that supported the ideals of freedom in the face of Tyranny. They were hardly the “summer time soldiers” Thomas Paine railed against.

The Train Historical Markers

In 1926, the 150th anniversary of Knox’s march, New York and Massachusetts erected 59 historical markers in the two states that traced the route over which the expedition passed.

knox trail 8 new louson road and arrowhaed laneThere were 3 markers in Albany County. One marker was placed at 99 Purtell Rd. in Colonie. It’s since been moved and is now located on Rte. 9 in front of Troy Landscape Supply, just below the Mohawk River.

 

 

 

 

 

knox trail 18There were 2 markers in the city of Albany. The northern most marker was located at 339 Northern Blvd., which we believe is near the boundary of the old Philip Livingston Jr High School in Dudley Heights. It’s been moved to the edge of a strip mall opposite Memorial Hospital.

 

The second marker was placed in what was Riverside Park (191 Broadway), a one acre area created as an inner city playground and park next to Steamboat Square in the early 1900s. What was left of the Park almost vanished in 1932/1933 with the construction of the ramps for the first Dunn Memorial Bridge.  What remained was buried under Route 787 construction in the late 1960s and early 1970sred.

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*At Fort George Knox wrote Washington about the “noble train of artillery”.

Julie O’Connor

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Albany’s Swashbuckling Captain Dean and the “Experiment”

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Stewart Dean was born in Maryland in 1748. It’s said he learned to sail off the coast of Maryland and captained his first ship while still in his teens. For reasons unknown he came to Albany in the late 1760s or early 1770s and quickly became a respected member of the community.

In 1773 he married Albany native Pieterje Bradt (a/k/a Bratt), daughter of a shipwright. He captained ships up and down the Hudson River and into the West Indies. In 1775 Dean and Abraham Eights, a sailmaker, own property next to one another on Dock St. along the River. (Eights was several years older than Dean, the son of a captain from NYC, who settled in Albany around the same time as Dean and it appears they became fast friends.)

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The Revolutionary War

In June 1776 Dean received a “letter of marque” from the Continental Congress. This commissioned Dean and his sloop the “Beaver” (90 tons, 6 cannon, 25 men) to act as a privateer. (Basically, this was a license to fit out an armed vessel, use it in the capture of enemy merchant shipping, and to commit acts which would otherwise have constituted piracy.) Within 3 months the “Beaver” and the brigantine “Enterprise” captured a prize,the “Earl of Errol” en-route from Jamaica to London. The “Earl” was taken to Boston where it was sold along with its cargo of sugar, cotton and rum. The investors who owned the “Beaver” sold it as well.

Dean returned to Albany where he and his friend Abraham enlisted in the first regiment of the Albany County Militia. Over the next 4 years they would participate in a number of campaigns, including the Battle of Oriskany, in the Mohawk Valley and the Battle of Saratoga.

Dean would become a member of the Albany Committee of Correspondence (the city’s governing body during the War) and its successor, the Committee for Detecting and Defeating Conspiracies (which may be my favorite organization name ever). By 1781 life in Albany had begun to return to a degree of normalcy although the War was not over (it wouldn’t end until 1783 with the Treaty of Paris). But life was apparently too dull for Dean.

In 1782 he was again commissioned as a privateer, on the schooner “Nimrod” (90 tons, outfitted with 25 men and 6 guns) out of Philadelphia. Allegedly part of his mission included carrying secret letters to the Caribbean to Admiral De Grasse, the commander of the French navy (who had been so instrumental in the American victory at Yorktown). In his 1833 application for a Revolutionary War pension Dean gave an account of this voyage. While at harbor on the island of St. Kitts the “Nimrod” was engaged by the British. Dean was wounded, captured, taken to Antigua and imprisoned for the better part of a month. Ultimately he was released, re-joined his crew and the “Nimrod” sailed back to America.*

By now one would think that Dean was ready to settle down, but tragedy struck. Pieterje died in 1783 as a result of childbirth. His great great grandson (who wrote Dean’s biography in the 1940s) thinks the death of his wife was the catalyst for the next chapter of Dean’s life.

China

In 1784 Dean was seized with the idea of sailing to China!

The first American ship to reach China was the “Empress of China”. It set sail in late 1784 and returned in April 1785. Dean found a group of Albany and New York City investors, and built and fitted out the “Experiment”, after conversations with Captain Greene of the “Empress”. The “Experiment” was relatively small – 80 tons and a crew of about 15. It sailed in December 1785 with a cargo of turpentine, furs, scotch, “Spanish milled dollars”, Madeira, and ginseng. The “Experiment” followed the route of the “Empress” on its 13,000 mile journey, around the Cape of Good Hope in Africa and through the Java and China Seas. It made its way past Macao and up the Pearl River to Canton, landing in June 1786. The “Experiment” was the second American ship to reach China, and greeted by crews from England, Spain, Holland, Portugal, Sweden, Demark and France. (Canton was the only place where foreigners were permitted to engage in trade with the Chinese.)

Dean returned to New York City harbor in April 1787, 18 months after he first set sail, with all members of the crew – a remarkable achievement. While great glory had gone to the “Empress of China”, the fact that a small ship with a small crew could make a successful journey proved the viability of Chinese trade. Her return trip was made in four months and twelve days, with a cargo consisting principally of teas and nankeen cotton (a pale yellow cotton, made in Nanking, China). Dean was said to have brought back lengths of silk for the family and 13 sets of china for Albany families that could afford such luxury. When the “Experiment” sailed up the Hudson to Albany, it was greeted by almost all of Albany’s then population of about 3,000.

Upon his return Dean married Margaret Todd Whetten, sister of one of the “Experiment” crew, in 1787. He continued to sail to China, sometimes for John Jacob Astor (Dean’s uncle by marriage) as captain of Astor’s “Severn”. (Astor began his career as trading fur in Albany in the 1780s after the Revolution, and was soon trading across the Atlantic. He would come to dominate American trade in China and became one of the richest men in the country.) The initial voyage of the “Severn” began in April 1800. It was the culmination of several years of planning, since its route around Cape Horn in South America was unfamiliar and potentially more dangerous, but theoretically shorter than the route around Africa. The gamble paid off. The “Severn” returned in little more than a year, laden with cargo that would make Astor even richer. (Other voyages of the “Severn” were captained by Dean’s brother-in-law John Whetten.)

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It’s been said that while on his trips to Canton Dean became good friends with Howqua, the chief merchant for the Chinese imperial Court at Canton (and at one point estimated to be the richest man in the world). Dean was presented with a portrait of Howqua and other captains were entrusted with caskets of special tea to bring to Dean even after he stopped sailing. There’s a family tale that Dean once brought his young son Abraham on a voyage. In Canton, Howqua walked into the Imperial walled court city with the boy. When they emerged Abraham was dressed in the traditional cheongsam of the ruling Mandarin class of the Qing Dynasty. There was even said to have been a painting of an American man and a boy hanging in the Howqua family royal apartments long after Howqua’s death.

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By 1805 it appears that Dean’s sailing days were over and he becomes a member of the Albany Common Council, still living on the edge of the Albany River basin next to Abraham Eights, along with their warehouses. By 1809 Dean had become one of the wealthiest men in city and moved to Arbor Hill (then mostly rural), but by 1820 he appears living back on North Market (Broadway) close to the River. For a while the Deans removed from Albany to live with a son in Lima, NY, just south of Rochester, but after the death of his wife Dean went to live in NYC with his daughter Margaret Sedgewick and her family. He died there in 1836.

In 1826 Dock Street would re-named to Dean Street in his honor. Dean St. ran south of and parallel to Broadway, just above the River, and once extended from about Steuben St. on the north to Hudson Ave. on the south. Today a little stub remains that extends from Maiden Lane, running behind the Federal Courthouse and the old Federal Building, opening into the SUNY plaza.

*The story of Dean’s adventure in the Caribbean was adapted by Catherine Maria Sedgewick in a “Tale of Perdita” from her book “Modern Chivalry”. Sedgewick was a cousin of Margaret’s husband, one of the first female American novelists and the most prolific (she’s sometimes called America’s Jane Austen). She started writing around 1820 and continued for the next 40 years. At one point she was engaged to be married to Albany’s own Harmanus Bleecker, but changed her mind and remained single to be able to write.

Julie O’Connor

Albany’s Dianna Mingo (1767-1872)

An unmarked grave (Lot 8, Section 99) on the North Ridge is the final resting place of a woman who is said to be the oldest person buried at Albany Rural Cemetery; a former slave named Dianna Mingo.

Dianna was born in December 1767 as a slave of Matthew Bakeman (Beekman)* of Schodack . As a young woman, she witnessed the Revolutionary War firsthand and, in later life, would tell friends of her experiences.

The Revolution

Mrs. Mingo was nearly ten years old when the Declaration of Independence was proclaimed, and well remembered the great rejoicings and illuminations in honor of that event. She saw Gen. Washington; and her recollections of many incidents were vivid and distinct; frequently she would delight her friends by recalling them; how when the British enemy were coming, the inhabitants would get up in the night and run for the woods, where they dug holes in the earth and buried their gold and silver, their plate and jewelry, and would also hide their treasures in their beds and lay upon them to protect them from marauding parties; how one of the ladies had a baby who cried, and how to stop its little tell-tale voice the mother lay over it and smothered it; how also the “tories” spurred into her master’s yard one day, killed the cattle and poultry, and fired the dwelling, burning it to the ground.

The venerable woman would also often tell her reminiscences of the war of 1812; and describe the visit of Gen. Lafayette to this city in 1825; his crossing from Greenbush to this city, when the people remained up all night in order to receive him, and strewed flowers and branches in the roads before him; his riding in the gorgeous yellow carriage of the Van Rensselaers, and the tumultuous joy of the people in welcoming him. Indeed it would take volumes to contain the oft-recounted memories of this really wonderful old woman; but what we have specified will show the great extent and interest thereof.

(from the “Albany Evening Journal”, July 30, 1872)

She was freed before the general emancipation took effect in New York (1827), married a man named Christopher Mingo who died in the 1830s, and eventually settled in Albany.

stevensonhseShe worked first for the family of Mayor James Stevenson, as a cook at the Manor House of the Van Rensselaers, and later in the household of attorney Marcus T. Reynolds (grandfather and namesake of the architect). She spent several years employed in Newburgh, but returned to Albany after an attack of paralysis. She spent the last years of her life living in a modest wood frame house, at 385 State St. near the corner of Willett St. She remained active almost until the end of her life. With the help of her niece, Mary G. Jackson, she supported herself by taking in laundry.

Dianna Mingo died on July 25, 1872. She was said to be 105 years old. Her funeral was held at the Israel A.M.E. Church on Hamilton Street where she had been a beloved member. It was reported in the newspapers that her funeral was so well attended that mourners crowded onto the steps of the pulpit and spilled out the doors.

Writing of her passing, the” Albany Evening Journal” noted:

Diana Mingo was a truly remarkable instance of the preservation of both body and mind. Forty years ago, when she felt she was going old, she planted a seed in front of the house in which she died, from which has grown a horse-chestnut tree that still flourishes, green and delightful, like her memory to all who knew her.

*The Beekman family were early Dutch Settlers that by the middle of the 1750s extended from New Jersey to New York City through the Hudson Valley to the Albany and Troy area. Beekmans were among the “merchant princes” of the state, and some of the largest slave holder families across New York. But after the Revolution individual members started questioning the practice of slavery and by the mid 1800s were committed abolitionists.

By Paula Lemire, Historian Albany Rural Cemetery

Albany Winter Sports – 18th Century Edition; Sledding down State St. Hill

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The best description of winter sports in Albany in the late 1700s comes from “Memoirs of American Lady” by Scotswoman Anne MacVicar Grant. She came to live in North America with her soldier father when she was a young girl. She ended up residing much of the time with Madame Margarita Schuyler (Philip Schuyler was one of her many nephews) on the southeast corner of State and Pearl in the 1760s.

Ice skating and driving horse drawn sleighs* across the Hudson were typical diversions. But in her book she describes sledding down State St. hill as a particular Albany amusement (we assume driven by the topography of the city).

41815839674_d6bd718483_bWe imagine her peering out the window of her home with Mrs. Schuyler as young men “flew” down the hill.

 

 

 

 

 

“In winter, the river (the Hudson), frozen to a great depth, formed the principal road through the country, and was the scene of all those amusements of skating, and sledge races, common to the north of Europe. They used, in great parties, to visit their friends at a distance, and having an excellent and hardy breed of horses, flew from place to place, over the snow and ice, in these sledges, with incredible rapidity, stopping a little while at every house they came to, and always well received, whether acquainted with the owners or not. The night never impeded these travellers, for the atmosphere was so pure and serene, and the snow so reflected the moon and star-light, that the nights exceeded the days in beauty.

18th century dutch sled

18th-century-super-nice-pair-of-ice-skates-hand_1_a2571439dae653a7935d59794fae43ae

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abraham van strij

14250938597_61e070eee1_bIn town, all the boys were extravagantly fond of a diversion that to us would appear a very odd and childish one. The great street of the town (today we know it as State St., in the midst of which, stood all the churches and public buildings, sloped down from the hill on which the fort stood, towards the river: between the buildings was an unpaved carriage-road, the footpath, beside the houses, being the only part of the street which was paved. In winter, this sloping descent, continued for more than a quarter of a mile, acquiring firmness from the frost, and became extremely slippery.

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1750

Every boy and youth in town, from eight to eighteen, had a little, low sledge, made with a rope like a bridle to the front, by which it could be dragged after one by the hand. On this, one or two, at most, could sit—and this sloping descent, being made as smooth as a looking-glass, by sliders, sledges, &c., perhaps a hundred at once set out in succession from the top of this street, each seated in his little sledge, with the rope in his hand, which drawn to the right or left, served to guide him. He pushed it off with a little stick, as one would launch a boat; and then, with the most astonishing velocity, the little machine glided past, and was at the lower end of the street in an instant. What could be so peculiarly delightful in this rapid and smooth descent, I could never discover—though in a more retired place, and on a smaller scale, I have tried the amusement: but to a young Albanian, sleighing, as he called it, was one of the first joys of life, though attended with the drawback of walking to the top.

An unskillful Phaeton (sledder) was sure to fall. The conveyance was so low, that a fall was attended with little danger, yet with much disgrace, for an universal laugh from all sides, assailed the fallen charioteer. This laugh was from a very full chorus, for the constant and rapid succession of this procession, where everyone had a brother, lover, or kinsman, brought all the young people in town to the porticos, where they used to sit, wrapped in furs, till ten or eleven at night, engrossed by this delectable spectacle.

What magical attraction it could possibly have, I never could find out; but I have known an Albanian, after residing some years in Britain, and becoming a polished, fine gentleman, join the sport, and slide down with the rest. Perhaps, after all our laborious refinements in amusement, being easily pleased is one of the great secrets of happiness, as far as it is attainable in this “frail and feverish being.”

*James Fenimore Cooper describes a particularly fraught and sort of terrifying horse drawn sleigh ride over the Hudson in his novel “Satanstoe” ‘, set in the late 1750s, in which he drew heavily on descriptions of Albany from Mrs. Grant’s “Memoirs”.

Twelfth Night in Colonial Albany.. It’s All about the Cake

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In early January, if you lived in colonial Albany in early 1700s what we would think of as December festivities- St Nicholas Eve, Christmas and New Year’s festivities would be winding down. But wait, there’s more – what we have come to know as Twelfth Night. Its origins are in a Roman festival called Saturnalia surrounding the winter solstice. In the Christian era the 12th day after Christmas was designated as the date of the arrival of the three wise men in Bethlehem bearing gifts for the Christ child. But over time, and due in large part to the Protestant Reformation, January 6th became more of a secular holiday.. more than a bit of a blowout.. it was off the hook.

Curiously, there’s no documentation of the celebrations in the early New York colony, although there are passing references to the holiday. But many historians think that keeping traditions would have been very important for people who crossed the Atlantic and came to a new world.

So the colonists of Albany, whether Dutch, Walloon (Protestant French emigres) or German or English or Scandinavian would have all whooped it up. The English called it Twelfth Night, the other colonists would have referred to it as variation of “Three Kings Day”. In some cultures the festivities started the eve of Epiphany (January 5) and in others Epiphany Day (January 6).

Whenever the celebrations started it was a rollicking bout of good cheer, with much food and drink ..lots of drink. All sorts of treats piled the tables of Albany homes and taverns (in Dutch homes they would have included doughnuts, cookies, waffles, and pancakes), but the cake was the thing. If you had come from England, a bean might have been inserted into one side of the cake and pea on the other side. The male who got the slice with the bean became king for a day, the female the queen. If you were Dutch there probably was only one bean, and that person became the king. There might be a designated “fool” or jester whose job it was to amuse and entertain. There would have been games and drinking (if only they had known about beer pong) and often music.

Paintings of The Three Kings celebration in the Netherlands in the 17th century, were a favorite subject during the “Golden Age” of Dutch painting. It was wild and crazy.. mischief and mayhem.

 

There was no single Twelfth Night cake recipe – but most of them were a version of a fruit cake. One food historian has concluded that by the mid-1700s the most often used Twelfth night cake recipe was also used for a “Bride’s Cake” – another cake recipe designed to serve a large crowd. In fact, George and Martha Washington were married on Twelfth Night and her anniversary cake did double duty. (Google “Martha Washington anniversary cake” for updated versions). However the French emigres took a different approach and made a “Gallette des Rois” (cake of the kings”) – a large rough puff pastry filled with almond cream.

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The celebration of Twelfth Night died out in America by the 1850s, as Christmas and New Year’s took center stage. (Descriptions of lovely winter scenes in American literature in the early 1800s are often compared to the white icing and sugar decorations of Twelfth Night cakes which tell about the refinement of the cake.) But try as we might, we found no ads for bakeries or bake houses selling Twelfth Night cakes in America in the early 1830s. (We need to do more research.)

15The “Godey Lady Book” (America’s most popular woman’s magazine of the 19th century ) described Queen Victoria’s Twelfth Night Cake at Windsor Castle in 1848 – “..a miracle of confectionary skill” – 3’ in diameter and 4’ tall – with lavish sugar decorations that included a working music box and mechanical fish and figures of “Chinese persons” that beat time to the music.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Julie O’Connor

St. Nicholas Day in Colonial Albany

If you were living in colonial Albany today in the early 1700s you and your family would probably be preparing for the arrival of St. Nicholas on December 6th.

St. Nicholas was a real person – a 4th century bishop who lived in what’s now Turkey. He provided for the poor and the sick, and became the patron saint of children (he’s also the patron saint of pawnbrokers – go figure). He was much admired and loved throughout Europe.

Over time the legend of St. Nicholas grew and his religious feast day became a celebration that extended beyond the church walls and incorporated regional pagan myths. Each country (and regions within countries) developed their own St. Nicholas traditions, but there are 2 commonalities – St. Nicholas arriving the night before before his feast day, leaving presents for the children (usually left in their shoes) and the women of the house in a baking frenzy- special treats for this festive and special day.

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In some areas St. Nicholas arrived by boat from Spain (much of the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Germany was under Spanish rule in the 16th and 17th centuries). In other mostly Germanic regions he flies on a white horse; in some places he comes into town riding a horse or walking beside a donkey carrying a load of gifts. Scandinavians had mythical little creatures “tomte” or “nisse” (suspiciously like elves) that assisted with December festivities. (And in pagan tradition, there’s often a creature called a Krampus – part Devil/part goat – that punishes bad children and sometimes leaves coal instead of gifts.)

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There’s no documentation of exactly how the Feast of St. Nicholas was celebrated in colonial Albany (although cookbooks yield some interesting info), but there is historical documentation for the same time period for the countries from which the citizens of Albany emigrated. Some scholars think the people who came here abandoned their traditions in the New World. We know that in the earliest days of the New Netherlands Colony, Peter Stuyvesant, the Governor, was quite straight laced and adhered to his own sense of the Dutch Reformed dogma – basically old peg leg was a bit of a religious fanatic. But after the early 1670s, when the colony was finally in the hands of the British, people were free to celebrate as they wished (more or less).

So we theorize the traditions would have been more important for people so far from “home”, but what did happen was probably a mixing of cultural traditions. There were Germans, Scots, Swedes, and Walloons and Huguenots (French Protestants), English and Norwegians. They lived next to one another and they intermarried * and traditions melded as cultures blended.

But Albany was still predominantly Dutch in the early 1700s. So most of the children would be waiting for “Sinterklaas” (the Dutch name for St. Nicholas) on St. Nicholas eve called “Sinterklaasavond”. Then all the children, giddy with excitement, would put out their wooden shoes (wooden shoes, except for the very rich – were a cultural thing in most of western Europe and Scandinavia – sabots among the French, clogs in the Norse countries land, klomp and Klompen among the Dutch and Germans.

The toys would be homemade in anticipation of just this night – wood or cornhusk dolls, tops, hockey sticks, whistles, stick horses, ninepin and balls, ice skates – lovingly crafted by parents. In addition to the toys, there would sweets and chocolate and maybe a coin. And probably an orange – the global trade of the Dutch had made exotic fruits like oranges high prized special delicacies (orange is the color of the Royal Dutch family – the House of Orange). An old Dutch poem about St. Nicholas even mentions oranges specifically.

“Saint Nicholas, good holy man!
Put on the Tabard, best you can,
Go, therewith, to Amsterdam,
From Amsterdam to Spain,
Where apples bright of Orange,
And likewise those granate surnam’d,
Roll through the streets, all free unclaim’d”

The women of the families in each ethnic group would bake their specialties. For the Dutch that meant a cookie call a Speculaas – a highly spiced shortbread (it’s still probably the national cookie of the Netherlands), crunchy little cookies called Kruidnuten (sometimes called Ginger Nuts – mini-speculaas)** and Peppernoten (Pepper Nuts) – small, chewy and also made with exotic spices. The lucrative East Indies spice trade had a dramatic impact on Dutch (and other European baking and cooking) and used spices that could only come from Southeast Asia in the “Spice islands”. The cookies would be rolled and dough placed in special forms.***The forms were usually made of wood, intricately carved and passed down through generations.

Fast running sloops would bring the spices, sugar, cacao, molasses and oranges up the Hudson to Albany to the docks about where Madison Ave. meets Quay St. today. They would have been off-loaded from larger ships in New York harbor, bringing the cargo from Asia, the British and Dutch Islands in the Caribbean and the colonies of British Honduras (now Belize) and Surinam, which was owned by the Dutch, in Central America.

German women would have made Stutenkerl (also called Nikolaus) – sweetened dough shaped into the form of St. Nicholas (with the Reformation, the dough men looked less bishop- like). And Scandinavian women would have made Pepparkakor – crisp ginger cookies cut in shapes of stars and hearts.

(I’m of the opinion that a German Haufrau was visiting a Swedish Hemmafrau and decided she would make a ginger cookie St. Nicholas (or visa versa) and that was the origin of the gingerbread man.)

Meanwhile Brits and the Scots brought little to the table. The religious wars in Scotland and England for over a century ended with a Protestant ban on saint day celebrations. And Christmas (save for a church service) was a no no. Except for religious services, Holiday traditions had taken a huge nose dive. So, they took to it like duck to water and by the early 1770s Sinterklaas is now Santa Claus and associated with Christmas.

As you’ve been reading along you can see how the Feast of St. Nicholas evolved into American Christmas, but that’s a whole other story we’ll save for another time.

*My Dutch 10th great grandmother married an English soldier and her daughter married a Swede (by way of Holland) who was a ship captain – all within 40 years of the family settling in New Netherlands in the 1650s. And my Walloon ancestors quickly married Germans and Dutch.

** Ginger nuts are still featured in Albany bakery ads of the 1850s.

***Speculaas are still made (in the Nertherlands you buy a Speculaas spice mix – rather than the individual spices) and the windmill cookies you like are actually speculaas.

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Julie O’Connor

How the Van Rensselaer Manor Vanished from Albany

Most of you know that the “Patroon” originally owned the vast area around Albany called Rensselaerwyck. (Basically, Patroon means “land owner” in Dutch.) The first Patroon was Killian Van Rensselaer, a pearl and diamond merchant, who acquired the land from the Dutch West India Co. (DWIC) in 1630. Think of the DWIC as a group of venture capitalists and speculators.. betting on the New World, using a traditional form of Dutch land ownership for revenue generation and capital formation.

Rensselaerwyck was one of several patroonships in the New Netherlands, but the only one that proved successful*. The original grant that encompassed land on both sides of the River was soon expanded by acquisition of additional lands from the Indians. In exchange for the land the Patroon had to establish a functioning colony (over which he had almost total power). (Much like IDA grants today, the Patroon got a tax break for the first decade.) Rensselaerwyck was a feudal manor and the Patroon was literally Lord of the Manor, except for Albany, which was at the time Fort Orange, a wholly owned subsidiary of the DWIC.

1.4There’s no evidence that the first Patroon ever visited his fiefdom. Business was conducted in his name by agents, from a large house and cluster of buildings north of the Fort on Broadway, near the Patroon Creek, a tributary of the Hudson River. In 1666 the compound was destroyed by a flood and rebuilt by Jeremias Van Rensselaer. (Jeremias was the third son of Killian and the first Patroon to establish permanent residence in Rensselaerwyck.)

 

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2According to Steve Belinski (the “Colonial Albany Social History Project”) the new building was constructed in the “Country Style” with the entrance on the long side and attached outbuildings. (Think a Patroon “compound” and the seat of government for the Manor.) A century later in 1765 a new and grand Manor House would be built on the same grounds by Stephen Van Rensselaer II, the Patroon and 3rd Lord of the Manor for his new wife, Catherine Livingston, daughter of Philip Livingston (signer of the Declaration of Independence). It was a large Georgian Mansion – one of the grandest homes in the country at the time – nestled amid a forest setting and lush, well-tended gardens. It was a thriving, mostly self-sufficient plantation, including slaves.

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14There were changes made to this Manor House around 1820 and again in the early 1840’s the existing structure underwent major renovation by architect Richard Upjohn (he designed the existing St. Peter’s Church on State St.), preserving the Georgian features of the original Manor House. It was still a gracious baronial manse – but it would be the home of the Last Patroon, Stephen Van Rensselaer IV.

 

14.1The days of the Patroon were coming to an end. The Anti-Rent Wars had already started in the late 1830s. The Patroon’s thousands of tenants were protesting what was still a feudal system of land ownership in which the Patroon held all the cards. The Wars would continue until 1846** when the NYS Constitution was amended to abolish the Patroon system and Van Rensselaer would start selling off his property – in Albany and across the Manor. ***

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20The Last Patroon died in 1868. By then the Manor House was hemmed in by the Erie Canal and the railroads on the east and the growing city and its factories on the west. By the 1870s the great Manor House was abandoned. There were attempts by the family to have the structure declared a New York State landmark of sorts. There were efforts made by some citizens to move the building to Washington Park. These failed.

 

 

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Finally, in the early 1890s Albany’s great architect, Marcus Reynolds (Banker’s Trust, the D&H Building and the Delaware Ave. fire house) and young Van Rensselaer cousin, convinced the family to agree to have the Manor disassembled. He transported the exteriors and the Manor House was “re-built” as the Sigma Phi fraternity house (Van Rensselaer Hall) at Williams College. (Reynolds was an 1890 graduate of Williams.) The interiors were donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and are currently on display in Gallery 752 in the American Wing.

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Van Rensselaer Hall survived until 1973 when it was demolished for a new Williams College library.

The last evidence of the Patroons in Albany survived into the 20th century on Broadway near Tivoli St. Alas, circa 1918 the Patroon’s Office (where the Patroon’s agents conducted business for almost 200 years) was demolished to accommodate the expansion of the International Harvester franchise.

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Today there’s no trace the Patroons were ever here, except for an historical marker on Clinton Ave. that identifies it as the former Patroon St., the original dividing line between the Patroon’s land and Albany. There’s no historic marker … nothing, nada, zip, zilch ….at 950 Broadway, near Manor St., the address of the Manor House. (This was one of the pet peeves of the late Warren Roberts, History Prof. at U Albany and author of the great book, “A Place in History; Albany in the Age of Revolution 1775-1825”. )

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And that’s how the Van Rensselaer Manor House vanished.

* A 10th G Grandfather, Cornelius Melyn, was the Patroon of Staten Island. It didn’t work out. There were wars with several Indian tribes, and battles with the DWIC and the successive Director Generals of the colony, including Peter Stuyvesant, over the dictatorial nature of the DWIC. He was a cranky rebel and a thorn in the side. Great Grandpa Corny ended up in the English New Haven Colony, took an oath of loyalty to the Crown and relinquished his right to the Patroonship of Staten Island. The last vestige of Corny is a mural in the Staten Island Borough Hall.

**The Anti-Rent Wars are fictionalized in the novel, “Dragonwyck” by Anya Seton (1944) and in a movie of the same name (1946) with Gene Tierney, Vincent Price and Walter Huston. Vincent Price is the perfect arrogant Dutch Patroon villain.. “You must pay the rent.”

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*** A GG grandfather purchased land in the 200 block of Livingston Ave. (then Lumber St.) in 1850 as part of the Patroon’s property sell-off.

Why is the twin bridge on the Northway over the Mohawk River named after a Polish guy?

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Great question: The Polish guy is Thaddeus Kościuszko a Polish/Lithuanian immigrant and a largely unsung hero of the American Revolution. The Bridge, connecting Albany and Saratoga Counties, commemorates a remarkable man who played a critical role, serving as an engineer, in the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga, the “turning point” of the Revolution.

He was an extraordinary man, a citizen of the world, who fought for the rights and liberty of all men and women against the tyranny of oppressive governments and institutions. (He found slavery of any kind, from African-Americans to feudal peasants in Europe, a particularly malignant evil.)

Act I – Early Life
Kosciuszko was born in 1746 in a small village, the youngest son of a poor noble family. He received training at the royal military academy and became an Army captain. Shortly thereafter a civil war arose in his country – his brother fought for insurgents; rather than take sides, Kosciuszko emigrated to France. He wanted to join the French Army, but couldn’t because he wasn’t French, so he enrolled in the Royal Academy of Fine Arts and Sculpture in Paris. In his spare time he studied in the libraries of the French military academies, learning economics, engineering, and military science. After 5 years he returned to home, but found there was no place in the Army for him. Ultimately he returned to Paris, where he learned about the nascent American Revolution.

Act 2 -The American Revolution
In 1776 Kosciuszko appeared one day at the print shop of Ben Franklin in Philadelphia (everyone, even the French, knew about Franklin). Franklin spent time with the young man, assessing his abilities and sent him off with a letter of introduction to the Continental Congress. Congress gave him an appointment as a colonel in the Continental Army and his work began – building fortifications around and near Philadelphia and along the Delaware River.

In summer 1777 he went north with General Horatio Gates, Commander of the Northern Department of the Continental Army, to Albany and then on to Fort Ticonderoga. Kosciuszko proposed placement of a battery on higher ground, on Sugar Loaf Mt. (now Mt. Defiance), overlooking the Fort; his recommendation was ignored. Subsequently the Fort was lost to General Burgoyne and the British army who laid siege, using the higher ground to their advantage. The Americans abandoned the Fort, slipping away using a flotilla of small boats and an ingenious floating log bridge of Kosciuszko’s design.

As the Americans fled, Albany’s own General Philip Schuyler adopted a “scorched earth” policy to cover the American escape and delay Burgoyne’s Army. Kosciuszko led the effort to destroy bridges and causeways, dam streams to cause flooding and fell trees. He was then ordered to survey the area north of Albany to find the best site to build defensible fortifications against the British. He selected Saratoga and began construction of defenses that proved impenetrable. Burgoyne was forced to surrender. General Gates, said after the battle “…the great tacticians of the campaign were hills and forests, which a young Polish engineer was skillful enough to select for my encampment.”

After Saratoga, Kosciuszko was dispatched to improve fortifications at West Point. (Benedict Arnold was going to pass Kosciuszko’s plans to Major Andre.) He remained at West Point until he requested a transfer to the Southern Army in 1780 where the battle for the country had moved. Again, Kosciuszko distinguished himself through his brilliant engineering skills and his bravery.

In 1783 he was appointed Brigadier General, granted American citizenship and given property. By now he was 37, a man of middle age at the time. But the remarkable life of Thaddeus Kosciuszko had only just begun. The next year he returned home to Poland.

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Act 3 – Back to Poland and the Kościuszko Uprising
In the late 1780s he was appointed a Major General in the Army. Kosciuszko joined his country’s reform movement that produced the first Constitution in Europe. But the democratic ideals were viewed as a threat to the surrounding feudal countries. In 1792, the Russian army (with help from the Prussians) invaded. Kosciuszko proved a brilliant military strategist, winning several great battles against formidable Russians troops. But ultimately the king surrendered to the army of Catherine the Great and Kosciuszko and other members of the Resistance fled.

Biding his time, Kosciuszko planned how to free his country. Several years later Kosciuszko led troops determined to oust the Russians. After a number of great victories Kosciuszko was wounded, captured by the Russians and taken to St. Petersburg. (The uprising was soon over.) Ultimately he was pardoned by Tsar Paul, who also agreed to release 20,000 Polish freedom fighters (and gave him some money) if he took a loyalty oath and agreed never to return to Poland. (Later Kosciuszko tried to return the money when he renounced the oath; the Tsar refused to accept it.)

Act 4 – Back to America
After his release Kosciuszko returned to Philadelphia, catching up with old friends, collecting his back military pay and forming a lasting friendship with then Vice-President Thomas Jefferson*. It appears he meant to remain in America, but events on the other side of the Atlantic intervened. He learned his nephews and other Poles were fighting in France under Napoleon and the new French government of the Revolution was seeking his support in taking the fight to the Prussians occupying his beloved Poland. He was eager to go to Europe, but concerned he could be a target of the new Alien and Sedition Act (1798) which could be used strip him of his American citizenship and prevent his re-entry into the U.S. (This was an era of un-declared hostilities between America and France.) Jefferson secured Kosciuszko a false passport and he left for France as a secret envoy. He later wrote: “Jefferson considered that I would be the most effective intermediary in bringing an accord with France, so I accepted the mission even if without any official authorization.”

Act V -Return to Europe
By the time Kościuszko arrived in June 1798, plans had changed. While involved in Polish émigré circles in France, he refused command of Polish troops serving with the French. He had several testy meetings with Napoleon; there was mutual dislike. Kościuszko withdrew from political and military life to the French countryside, not being permitted to leave France.

Years later when Napoleon did reach Poland Kosciuszko mistrusted his intentions and refused an alliance. After Napoleon was deposed Tsar Alexander I approached him, trying to broker a political deal involving Russian control of part of Poland. Kosciusko demanded political and social reforms which the Tsar was not willing to grant. Kosciuszko finally went to live in free Switzerland where he remained until his death in 1817. (Just before his death he freed the serfs on his remaining Polish land; the Tsar undid the emancipation.)

A great life well-lived in the defense of ideals freedom and equality for all.

*Upon leaving America, Kosciuszko wrote a will leaving his American property to Jefferson in order to purchase the freedom of slaves and to educate them. After Kosciuszko’s death in 1817, Jefferson said he was unable to act as executor. The case of Kościuszko’s American estate went three times to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court eventually ruled that the property belonged to Kosciuszko’s heirs in the 1850s.

“I Thaddeus Kosciuszko being just in my departure from America do hereby declare and direct that should I make no other testamentary disposition of my property in the United States I hereby authorise my friend Thomas Jefferson to employ the whole thereof in purchasing Negroes from among his own or any others and giving them liberty in my name, in giving them an education in trades or otherwise and in having them instructed for their new condition in the duties of morality which may make them good neighbours, good fathers or mothers, husbands or wives and in their duties as citizens teaching them to be defenders of their liberty and Country and of the good order of society and in whatsoever may make them happy and useful and I make the said Thomas Jefferson my executor of this. T. Kosciuszko 5th day of May 1798”
~ Last Will and Testament

Yay Yay It’s National Waffle Day!

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Why? Today in 1869 Cornelius Swartout, then working in Troy, patented the waffle iron. Swartout came from an old Dutch family that settled in the New Netherlands in the mid 1600s. It appears they first came to New Amsterdam, and then wended their way up the Hudson to Kingston. By the 1700s we find most of Cornelius’ family living in the Hilltowns of Westerlo and Berne. By the 1800s many, including Cornelius and some of his siblings, become Flatlanders and make their way to Albany.

waffle 4We can thank the Dutch for Waffles. They were probably invented in the 1400s. They were so yummy there is evidence that they had already been adopted by the English and references appear in the early days of Plymouth colony in Massachusetts. But they are a Dutch thing. Wafel (sic) irons are among the staples you find in inventories of New Netherland households in the 1600s. They continue to appear regularly in store ads in newspapers in Albany well into the 1800s.

 

 

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Making waffles is labor intensive, so they were treats. But they always made appearances on St. Nicholas Day and other holidays as integral part of those feasts. They were so special that by 1744 there is a surviving letter from a young woman in which she describes her attendance at a “Waffle Frolic”!

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No self-respecting Dutch housewife was without a “Wafle” recipe. We’ve included 2 from about 1800. The first is from the Lefferts family, Dutch settlers in Flatbush around the 1680s. The other is from Alida Bogert, who was born in the mid-1700s in Albany and lived on N Pearl, probably near Maiden Lane with her husband Barent and her many children.

 

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So.. the Dutch gave us not only donuts and cookies, but waffles as well! AWESOME!!!

Another thing Albany needs to add to its event list – the Annual Albany Frolic

The Rattle Watch in Beverwyck and Nepotism – an Albany Civil Service Tradition

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By the 1650s there were enough people in the New Netherlands for there to be public safety concerns and with those came public safety officers. Initially there was the equivalent of neighborhood watch in New Amsterdam (NYC), but that didn’t work out especially well, and so the first Rattle Watch (a group of 8 men) was appointed in 1658. Beverwyck followed in summer 1659; two men, Lambert Van Valkenburgh and Peter Winnie, were appointed on an annual basis and paid in wampum and beaver skins.

The Rattle Watch was established in Beverwyck because the local burghers, who had been assuming the responsibility – on a voluntary basis, wanted out. (There appears to have been a dispute about fire wood they were owed for stepping up, that was never provided.)

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10The Rattle Watch was a combination of police officer, firefighter & hourly time caller who carried the equivalent of a wood New Year’s Eve noisemaker that made a clacking racket.

Here’s the job description of the Rattle Watch from the Fort Orange court records in 1659:

1) First, the said rattle watch shall be held to appear at the burghers’ guard house after the ringing of the nine o’clock bell and together at ten o’clock shall begin making their rounds, giving notice of their presence in all the streets of the village of Beverwyck by sounding their rattle and calling [out the hour], and this every hour of the night, until 4 o’clock in the morning.

2) Secondly, they shall pay especial attention to fire and upon the first sign of smoke, extraordinary light or otherwise warn the people by knocking at their houses. And if they see any likelihood of fire, they shall give warning by rattling and calling, and run to the church, of which they are to have a key, and ring the bell

3) Thirdly, in case they find any thieves breaking into any houses or gardens, they shall to the best of their ability try to prevent it, arrest the thieves and bring them into the fort. And in case they are not strong enough to do so, they are to call the burghers of the vicinity to their aid, who are in duty bound to lend the helping hand, as this is tending to the common welfare.

4) Fourthly, in case of opposition, they are hereby authorized to offer resistance, the honorable commissary and magistrates declaring that they release them from all liability for any accident which may happen or result from such resistance if offered in the rightful performance of their official duties.

There’s a general consensus that Lambert (as we shall call him) was selected because he had some previous military experience working for the Dutch West Indies Company (DWIC) – the owners of the New Netherlands colony. He had originally settled in New Amsterdam, but sold his property (factoid – the Empire State Building stands on the land he owned) and migrated to Beverwyck.

The role of the Rattle Watch seems to have evolved over time – with the acquisition of New Netherlands by the English in 1664, growth of population and increasing tensions with the Native American population. But the job stays in the Van Valkenburgh family. In the 1670s, Lambert’s son-in-law, Zacharias Sickles, who’d also been a DWIC soldier and married to Lambert’s daughter Anna – becomes a Rattle Watch.

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In 1686 the Royal Governor, Thomas Dongan, issued a city charter to Albany (it’s the oldest chartered city in the country). The Dongan Charter made some changes to how the government worked and created the position of a High Constable and 7 sub-constables, one for each wards. But the tradition of the Rattle Watch continued.

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In the 1699, another son-in-law of Lambert Van Valkenburgh, John Radcliff. gets the appointment. John had come to Albany to be a soldier at the English fort, and married Lambert’s daughter Rachel. They lived on the “southside” near Beaver and Green. We think that his job transcended the traditional Rattle Watch role and he was more constable-like, with a job description that was more like what we know of the police today. In 1727 we find Rachel a widow, with grown children. But in 1732 the Common Council names Rachel to the position of Rattle Watch. Hmmm.

While women in this role were not unheard of it, her appointment was a rarity. (The Dutch in the New Netherlands granted women more rights on an equal par with men – when the English took over, women were relegated to second class citizens, but in very Dutch Albany, old habits died hard.)

6At the time of her appointment Rachel would have been probably in her 70’s. Because Rachel was my 9th great grandmother sometimes I think about her. Did one or more of her 10 kids do the job for her? Or did she trudge the rutted snowy and icy streets of Albany on cold winter nights in a long cloak, possibly made of beaver, and a wide brim beaver hat over her white cap tied beneath her chin. She would have carried her Rattle and a lantern, patrolling the streets of Albany from 10pm to daylight. The entry in City Record says she was to “Go all night and call hours from ten to 4, time and weather”.

 

 

 

5The route began at the main guard house (the city was still enclosed in a stockade fence at this time) near the south gate, up Brower (Broadway) St., over the Rutten Kill bridge (one of the 3 creeks that ran through Albany – filled in the 1800s) at Col Schuyler’s house, then to Jonker St.(State St.) to the corner where Johannes de Wandelaer lived on the hill near the fort, then to the house of Johannes Roseboom, on the east side of Parel (Pearl) St. north of Rom St. (Maiden Lane) to Gysbert Merselis’ house (northeast corner of Parrel and Rom) to the house of Hendrick Bries, and thence to the Guard House.

For this, she received 5 pounds and 10 shillings,and 5 pounds of candles.

We don’t know how long Rachel had the job, or how long the Rattle Watch continued or whether the job passed to other Van Valkenburgh kin IF the Rattle Watch continued. (She died in the mid-1700s and was buried in the Dutch Reformed Church cemetery. )

At least 75 years of the Rattle Watch in one family?? So very Albany.

11There is lasting evidence of the Radcliffe family in Albany. Johannes Radcliffe, grandson of Rachel Van Valkenburgh and John Radcliffe, was the second owner of the Van Ostrand Radcliffe house in Albany, the oldest structure in the city. It was constructed on Hudson St. just outside the city stockade when it was built in the 1720s. As we go farther down her family line, James Eights, the painter of the wonderful watercolors that let us know what Albany looked like in the early 1800s was Rachel’s great great grandson (through her oldest daughter Elizabeth.)

The Rattle Watch gig may explain why generations of my family have cursed the State St. hill climb – it’s genetic.

Thanks to Stefan Bielinski and Colonial Albany Project for some of the material in this post http://exhibitions.nysm.nysed.gov//albany/welcome.html .