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. )
When the Battles of Lexington and Concord ended on April 19, 1775 word spread like wildfire through the Colonies. Everyone had been waiting for this, knowing it would come, and not knowing what would happen next. Except that it would be dangerous – 8 colonists died and 9 were wounded on that day.
Yet thousands of men rushed to serve. (Over 350,000 men served in the War over its 7 years.)
There are more than 110 Revolutionary War soldiers buried in Albany Rural Cemetery (and more waiting to be identified).
Some served in the Continental Army, others in state and county militias. Some fought in the local battles we’re all familiar with, like the Oriskany and Saratoga, while others served at Yorktown and Brandywine. Some lived in Albany when they joined the fight, others came to live here after the War. Some were lifelong soldiers, while others were members of minute man companies or the militia, ready to be called up at a moment’s notice.
We’ve put together several brief biographies of those interred at Albany Rural Cemetery that we hope provide you with a better sense of those who fought to forge a new nation.
Daniel Shields Shields was born in Scotland, but lived in New York City. He enlisted in the Continental Army at the age of 14 (it appears he lied about his age). He served in a NYS regiment under Lafayette at the Battle of Yorktown. (He was discharged with the rank of captain.) Shields received a badge of merit signed by General Washington.
After the War Shields moved between Albany and Schenectady, trying his hand at different jobs. In 1824 Shields and Lafayette had a brief, but fond re-union when Lafayette visited Albany as part of his American tour. Shields’ granddaughter married Leland Stanford (also from Albany), the railroad mogul, politician and founder of Stanford University.
Shields died in 1835, and is interred in Lot 21, Section 11 of the Cemetery.
Goose (Gosen) Van Schaick Van Schaick was the son of a merchant, who was once mayor of Albany. He’d fought in many battles in the French and Indian War. In 1770 he married a local girl, Maria Ten Broeck; the couple lived on Market St. (now Broadway).
Van Schaick represented his ward on the Albany Committee of Correspondence and would actively serve in the War. He was wounded at the Battle of Ticonderoga in 1777 (in the cheek-the site of a previous wound) and served at the Battle of Monmouth. He was also part of what has come to be known as one of the darker parts of our history, the Sullivan Raids in 1779, in which most of the Indian Nation in the western part of the State was brutally savaged by American troops.
At the end of the War Brevet Brigadier General Goose Van Schaick returned to Albany, still troubled by his cheek wound (which had been determined to be cancerous).
He died on July 4, 1789, age 53. Goose and Maria are buried side by side in Lot 5, Section 3.
Cornelius Van Vechten Van Vechten was born in 1735, son of a Schagticoke landowner who also served as a firemaster in Albany for a time.
Van Vechten was one of the signers of the constitution of the Albany “Sons of Liberty” in 1766, and 1775 was commissioned Lt. Colonel of the 11th (a/k/a Saratoga) regiment of the Albany County militia. At the time of the Saratoga campaign, the family home at Coveville (Saratoga County) was burned by the advancing British under General Burgoyne. Van Vechten served in the militia until the War ended.
Following the Revolution, Van Vechten served in the State Assembly and, later, as the town clerk in Schaghticoke. He died at age 78 in 1815.
The Van Vechtens were originally buried in the Dutch Reformed section of the State Street Burying Grounds. They were moved to Lot 7, Section 38 at the Cemetery in 1859.
Walter Whitney Whitney was born in Fairfield, Connecticut in 1760. He served in a unit of the Connecticut artillery as a teenager, from 1777-1779. He subsequently became a school teacher in Connecticut, but moved to outside Albany in the late 1780s (in the towns of Berne and New Scotland) where he also farmed, until his family came into the city in the late 1820s.
He died in 1846 while living at 26 DeWitt Street (now a very small cul-de-sac between Broadway and Erie Blvd).
Whitney’s white marble headstone on the North Ridge is decorated with patriotic emblems – an eagle with a banner bearing the words E PLURIBUS UNUM and a shield rises above a cannon. Look closely alongside the cannon to see crossed swords. Above the eagle are thirteen stars (some are worn and hard to see) for the original thirteen colonies and 76 is carved between the eagle and the cannon.
The Whitney grave can be found in Lot 159, Section 92.
Abraham Eights Abraham Eights was a second generation American (his grandfather was born in the Netherlands), son of a sea captain, born circa 1745. He settled in Albany in the 1760s, became a sailmaker and lived on Water St. on the Hudson River.
He was one of Albany’s original “Sons of Liberty” in 1766. At the start of War in 1775 he was commissioned a Lt. in the Albany County Militia, but later resigned. He’s found in subsequent records (1777-1779) serving as a private in the Albany County militia on an as needed basis. It appears that he helped the cause with cash and in-kind contributions (ensuring sails were in working order for the sloops that plied the River, and for his next door neighbor Capt. Stewart Dean, who was a commissioned privateer during the War, and with whom he served in the Militia).
Eights became a wealthy man and in later years was the Dockmaster of Albany. His grandson was James Eights who painted the wonderful watercolors of Albany that show us how the city looked in the early 1800s.
Abraham died in 1820, and is buried in Section 52, Lot 13.*
Josiah Burton Burton was born Connecticut in 1741. The family then moved just across the border to Amenia in Dutchess County. Historical data suggest that Burton was a silversmith. In May 1775 he was commissioned as a captain in the Dutchess County Militia. It appears he resigned that commission because in 1777 he’s a first lieutenant in an Albany county militia regiment, mustered out of Kinderhook. He moved to Albany in the 1790s and is listed in the Albany County census in the first ward in 1800.
Burton died in 1803 at the age of 61. He’s buried in Section 49, lot 5. *
Benjamin Lattimore – African-American Revolutionary War Soldier Benjamin Lattimore was born a free man in 1761 in Connecticut. At the outbreak of the Revolutionary War he was living in Ulster County, near New Marlborough, several miles south of Poughkeepsie. Lattimore enlisted (while still a teenager) with the 5th NY Regiment, Continental Army i(n 1776 once Black men were allowed to serve).
A few days later his company was sent to NYC where they took part in the Battle of Manhattan. Later that year he was on duty at Fort Montgomery (on the Hudson, just north of Bear Mountain) when he was captured along with hundreds of other Continentals by the British. Lattimore was re-captured by the Americans in Westchester, and re-joined the Continental Army.
Lattimore’s regiment was also part of the Sullivan Expedition in the western part of NY”, designed to punish the Iroquois for raiding frontier settlements.
By the late 1790s Lattimore and his family moved to Albany. He was licensed by the city as a “cartman” (authorized to haul cargo through the city streets). By about 1810 Lattimore also owned a grocery store, ad began to accumulate real estate.
Throughout the rest of his life Lattimore was active in advancing the conditions of African- Americans in Albany. He was part of a group that established the first “Albany School for Educating People of Color” in the ealry 1800s, was founding member of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and was chairman of the Albany committee to celebrate the abolition of slavery in New York State in 1827.
He died in 1838 at the age of 78 and was buried in the AME cemetery. Records indicate that his remains were moved to Albany Rural Cemetery, but his headstone has gone missing.
*Abraham Eights’ daughter Catherine married John Burton, son of Josiah Burton in the 1790s (my 3rd great grandparents).
In the middle of the 18th century Swedish naturalist Peter Kalm made a trip to America; in June 1749 he stayed at Albany, and wrote of his visit.
At this time Albany, although chartered as a city, was
really just a large village of about 1,300 and perhaps 250 homes. It was
an odd combination of sleepy rural village and frontier town; proper
Dutch burghers, Indians and buckskin clad traders. Churches, taverns and
trading posts seemed to have equal importance. Someone once said that
when the Dutch of Albany weren’t in church, they worshipped the God of
(Don’t be shocked. Albany was founded by a
corporation, and then one man, The first Patroon – a diamond merchant –
for the sole purpose of making money. Individual settlers may have come
for other reasons, but it was established as an investment.)
Sweep away, if you can, every image of Albany you have today and try to imagine the Albany of over two centuries ago,
The City Most of the inhabitants still lived within the stockade, although the population had begun to expand (mostly south) outside the fort’s walls about 20 years before. There were still block houses on the corners of the stockade.
The inhabited part of the city extended only a bit farther west than South Pearl St; beyond there was nothing except hills and deep forest. To the north lay the Patroon’s Manor (about where Tivoli St. is today), and then the Patroon’s Creek that cut through the deep gorge of Tivoli Hollow. Below that was the Foxenkill just inside the fort walls, slicing another gorge (which is Sheridan Hollow today). It was crossed by a bridge at North Pearl St.
The Ruttenkill flowed down from Lark St. between Hudson Ave. and State St. It created another deep ravine (filled in the 1800s) and in 1749 it was crossed by several bridges. To the south of the fort stockade were several new streets, extending to about Division St. Then came the Beaver Kill – it twisted south from what is now Western Ave. down through today’s Lincoln Park (creating the roiling and foamy Buttermilk Falls), then flowing into the river. Just above the Beaverkill was “the Pastures”, a communal grazing spot and an area with some small farms and gardens.
As Kalm sailed up the Hudson he noted many ships of all kinds and sizes sailing south to NYC loaded with wood, furs and grain.
The Cityscape He found the houses within the stockade built close together, in the Dutch tradition, with large deep back gardens, cow sheds, chicken coops and fruit trees. “The houses are very neat.. some are slated with tiles from Holland.. most are built in the old way., with the gable-ends towards the street. The street doors are generally in the middle of the houses; and on both sides are seats.. In the evening these seats are covered by people of both sexes. but that’s rather troublesome, as those who pass by are obliged to greet everyone, unless they will shock the inhabitants with their impoliteness”.
Most house had wells, (there were public wells installed in each of the city’s 3 wards in the early 1700s), but water was taken from the Hudson for brewing and washing. It was placed in the cellar until the muddy “slime” sunk to the bottom. . Kalm notes the streets were broad and some are paved; in some parts they’re lined with trees, but he says they’re very dirty because the people leave their cattle in them on summer nights.
Kalm says: “There are two churches in Albany, an English one and a Dutch one.” (Note: there was also a Lutheran Church in the southwest corner of the city.) “The Dutch Church stands some distance from the river on the east side of the market, and it has a small steeple with a bell… The English Church (St. Peter’s Church) is situated on the hill, at the west end of the market, directly under the fort… The Town Hall (called the Stadt Huys) lies to the southward of the Dutch Church, close by the river side. It is a fine building of stone, three stories high. It has a small tower.. with a bell and a gilt ball and a vane.” The street that goes between the 2 churches is five times broader than the others and serves as a market place “to which country people resort twice a week.
(Five years later Ben Franklin would come to the Stadt Huys and propose his “Albany Plan of Union”. In 1775 his Plan would form the basis for establishment of the Continental Congress, and later the Articles of Confederation, precursor to the US Constitution. Albany has some mighty fine history!!)
“The fort on a step hill is a building of stone surrounded with high thick walls. Its situation is very bad, as it can only serve to keep away of plundering parties” . (Given the high hills that surrounded it, they could be used for offensive purposes).
Although Kalm doesn’t describe other buildings in the city, but we know there was the Staats House on the southeast corner of State and South Pearl Streets, dating back to the 1660s. It was the Schuyler family manse where Philip Schuyler and Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton were born. Across the street was the “Vanderhuyden Palace”, built in 1725, on the corner of State and North Pearl Streets. On the corner of N. Pearl and Steuben, close to the stockade was a building known in the mid-1700s as a trading post and lodging house for Indians who came to trade.
Domestic Life “The inhabitants of Albany are Dutch, they speak Dutch and their manners are Dutch”.
“The women are perfectly well acquainted with economy; they rise early,
go to sleep late and are almost over nice and cleanly with regard to
the floor, which is frequently scoured several times in the week. The
servants in the town are chiefly Negroes.” *
The kitchens were the gathering places in most homes. The fire places were enormous; large enough to roast a whole cow. Larger homes had a “front room”. They drank mostly beer and water, sometimes tea; coffee not at home. We know every day meals were modest, but in great abundance – bread, cheese and butter, with salads and vegetables, and fowl and fish (Albany was known for its sturgeon – called “Albany Beef” – it fairly leaped out of the Hudson into fishing nets.)
Trade Kalm noted the city was advantageous for trade. The quay (dock) was made sturdily to withstand winter ice and spring flooding, and the river was so deep ships could come close to shore.
Kalm notes “there is not a
place in all the British colonies where such quantities of furs and
skins are brought of the Indians, as at Albany”. He says most of the
Albany’s merchants or their clerks traded with tribes at Oswego in the
summer. “Indians are frequently cheated especially when they are in
liquor” and received as little as 1/10 of the value of their goods. “The
merchants of Albany glory in these tricks.”
Besides the trade at Oswego, Indians came to Albany, especially from Canada, since Canadian merchants used the Indians to smuggle the furs to Albany. They returned with goods that were cheaper in Albany- like wool and other cloth (flax) made on the estates of Albany merchants outside of the city. He noted many residents of Albany engaged in making wampum to trade with the Indians. And thus, Kalm concluded that that the devotion to making money, coupled with their innate frugality served to make many Albany residents very wealthy.
*Albany County had one of the largest enslaved population outside of the South. Slaves were first brought to Beverwyck in its earliest days- over a century before 1749. The labor of the enslaved was part of Albany’s economic engine that contributed to its wealth. In the city most of the enslaved were women and young boys and girls – at least 10% of the population in the mid-1700s. The estates and farms outside of the city owned by city merchants and burghers depended on adult male labor. As far as we know, unlike NYC, Albany had no central “slave market”. It’s likely there were mostly private sales and public sales took place in taverns or coffee houses.
There’s been a masonic lodge in the same location in Albany for over 250 years. It’s the oldest organization in the city, dating back to before the Revolutionary War.
On June 28th, 1756, Alexander
Lightfoot, an innkeeper of Albany was laid to rest. According to “The
New York Mercury”. “his corpse was attended by all gentlemen of the
army, who were members of the Honorable Society of Free Masons.” This is
the earliest known reference to Freemasonry having existed in some form
in Albany. Not until 1758-59 would Freemasonry become more formally
organized in Albany.
The development of Albany’s first Masonic
Lodge was facilitated by a British military Lodge stationed in Albany
during the French & Indian War. This military Lodge would initiate a
few men of Albany into their fraternity and when they departed, would
leave with them an exact copy of the warrant that empowered them to meet
as a Masonic Lodge. The new Freemasons of Albany were instructed that
this document would allow them to meet as a Lodge until a warrant was
received. The warrant was granted in 1765 by the New York Provincial
One of the earliest members of this new Lodge at
Albany was Mr. Richard Cartwright, the owner of The King’s Arms Tavern,
which was located near what is now Green and Beaver Streets. The Lodge,
which would become known as Union Lodge No. 1 (Founded: February 21st,
1765 – Now: Mount Vernon Lodge No. 3) would meet regularly at
Cartwright’s tavern, even after he was driven from Albany due to his
loyalist sympathies. Other early members of this Lodge included: Peter
W. Yates, Leonard Gansvoort, Dr. Samuel Stringer, Matthew Vischer, and
Christopher Yates. As its ranks swelled, two additional Masonic bodies
formed even before the beginning of the Revolution, and with this
growth, so too came a desire for a more permanent home for the Masonic
bodies of Albany.
According to Stefan Bielinksi in “The Colonial
Albany Project” in 1766 the City Council granted Dr. Samuel Stringer a
deed “for a lott of ground on the Hill near the Fort adjoining the
English Burying Ground” on which to erect a lodge building. Subsequent
transactions conveyed an adjoining lot. (Stringer would become the
physician in charge of the Northern Department during the Revolutionary
The Lodge would be just around the corner from the
soldier’s barracks and the hospital in which Stringer would treat
Benedict Arnold after the Battle of Saratoga.
In December 1767
a new warrant empowered a second lodge, the “Ineffable Lodge of
Perfection” with other Albany men. Several days later the men of both
lodges paraded through Albany streets.
By June, 1768, the first building in Albany for exclusive Masonic use was completed, on what would become known as the northwest corner of the Lodge St., and Maiden Lane, and occupied by Masters Lodge No. 2 (Now: Masters Lodge No. 5) and the Ineffable Lodge of Perfection. (It’s said to have been the first purpose built Lodge building in America.)
Rensselaer III, the “Good Patroon” was initiated as Mason in 1776 when
he was 22, and would later serve as Grand Master for New York State)
Soon the cross street at Maiden Lane became known as Lodge St. (It appears on a 1794 map of the city.)
Eventually, the first building would be demolished and a larger three-story would structure would replace it.
In time, this structure would also be replaced by the current Renaissance-revival building at the corner of Lodge Street and Corning Place (previously Maiden Lane). Designed by Fuller and Wheeler and built 1895-96, it was constructed to accommodate the more than a dozen Masonic organizations that were meeting in various places throughout the city. The cornerstone for the building was laid by James Ten Eyck on June 24th, 1895 and the building was completed, dedicated, and open on October 26th, 1896. It is estimated to have cost just over $100,000 to build.
Today the City of Albany is home to five Masonic Lodges, the American York-Rite of Freemasonry, the Ancient & Accepted Scottish-Rite of Freemasonry, and women’s masonic groups, the Order of the Eastern Star, the Order of the Amaranth, and several invitation-only Masonic bodies. Taken together, the Masonic Fraternity, contributes millions of dollars through direct monetary contributions and through the time of its members to a whole host of charitable works, which include: the Shriners Hospitals for Children, the Scottish-Rite Centers for Dyslexia, and the Knights Templar Eye Foundation to name a few. These efforts are in keeping with the mission of the fraternity, which is to improve its membership, their families, and the broader world.
Written by worshipful Michael A. Hernandez, Past Master, Mount Vernon Lodge No. 3, F. & A.M.
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.
The story of the Noble Artillery Train is one of ingenuity and pure grit. It was critical to America winning the Revolution.
Colonel 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
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.
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).
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”!
The 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.
There 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.
There 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.
*At Fort George Knox wrote Washington about the “noble train of artillery”.
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.)
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
She 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.
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).
We 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.
In 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.
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”.
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.
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.)
The “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.
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.
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.)
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.