Albany’s 44th NY and the Battle of Gettysburg

3

On July 2, 1863 the Battle of Gettysburg was raging in its second day. Men from Albany were dug in on a boulder strewn hill, fighting for their lives and for the hill that would come to be known as Little Round Top.

Gettysburg was a defining moment in the lives of the men who fought on both sides, including men from Albany. We estimate that about 8,000 men from the city of Albany and environs served in the Civil War. (Pretty amazing considering the entire population of the City was about 62,000 when the War broke out). Of those, about 4,000 were probably at Gettysburg. (Most of the men from Albany who fought at Gettysburg served in 4 regiments, but there were Albany men scattered throughout the Union Army, taking part in the battle that sprawled over 10 miles – in the infantry, artillery, cavalry and men from Albany County hill towns who were among some of the best sharpshooters in the Army.

We spend a lot of time discussing the Battle of Saratoga and how it changed the outcome of the Revolution. About 90 years later the Battle of Gettysburg was no less fateful in preserving the nation created by the Revolutionary War. Men of the 44th NY Regiment, mustered from Albany in August and September 1861, were in the thick of it on Little Round Top. The fight for that hill is considered by many historians to be the key point in the Union Army’s defensive line that day and perhaps of the entire Battle. The Union Army’s victory at Little Round Top prevented Meade’s Army from being outflanked by General Lee.

The 44th NY Regiment was known by 2 names – “Ellsworth’s Avengers” after Col. Elmer Ellsworth from Mechanicville (who was killed while removing a Confederate flag from the roof of the Marshall House Inn of Alexandria, Virginia at the request of Abraham Lincoln) and the “People’s Ellsworth Regiment”. Several of the initial companies of the 44th were recruited from the city of Albany. (About a year later, another company was added, drawn mostly from students at the State Normal School.)

The expenses of the 44th Regiment were borne in large part by the city fathers. There were requirements for enlistment; at least 18 years of age and no older than 30, a minimum of 5’ 8”, single, of good moral character; previous military experience a plus. The men who joined were an eclectic mix – they represented all trades and professions and some were college graduates. My GGG uncles, Charlie and George Zeilman, joined up. Because Charlie had served in the local guard he was immediately promoted to sergeant of Company F, known as the “Albany Company”.

Much has been made about the men from the State Normal School who enlisted with the 44th the following year, so I thought I would tell you about 2 ordinary guys from Albany, since they’re more representative of most of the 44th and rest of the men from Albany who fought for the Union. The Zeilman brothers were the grandsons of a Hessian soldier who fought for the British in the Revolutionary War, and a German immigrant who settled in the Mohawk Valley and fought in Tryon County militia. The extended family ended up in the Albany in the late 1700s in what is now Arbor Hill. We know the family had a tradition of public service – some were captains and constables of the watch (what we would call police), others were strong proponents of public education as early as the 1830s and they were all staunch Republicans. For the most part they were tradesmen. Charlie was carpenter and George a paper hanger when they enlisted. Much of the Zeilman extended clan, which included relations by marriage, lived in small area of two blocks on Lumber St. (now Livingston Ave.) between N. Hawk St. and Lark St. So far we’ve found 5 cousins from the area who enlisted in other NYS regiments. There were millions of men who joined the Union army just like them. They were the heart and soul of the Northern forces.

10The 44th recruits were housed in barracks in what that city had planned to be an Industrial school in the general area we call University Heights today, off New Scotland Ave. The barracks were near the Almshouse and far from the urban core.

The 44th NY were “Zouaves”. Their uniform was modeled after Col. Ellsworth’s unit, based on the Zouave Algerian regiment in the French Army – known for their “dash” and bravery. It consisted of a dark blue bolero type jacket, with red piping on the cuffs, dark blue trousers with a red stripe, a red billowy shirt, a dark blue forage cap, and a pair of leather gaiters.

2 (2)And thus began the romantic phase of the War, before anyone could comprehend the brutality and death that was to come. It would be a glorious war. Officers were presented with gifts and feted at teas and receptions. The men and women of Albany drove up Madison Ave. in their carriages to watch drills; the recruits paraded through the streets to the cheers of city residents, accompanied by a regimental band of some of the best musicians in the city who had enlisted. The 44th was presented with a flag by the Mayor’s wife. The commander, Colonel Stryker, turned to the men and asked, “Boys, shall this flag ever fall?” The men responded in unison, “Never”. They left Albany in a great pageant of patriotism- flags waved and the crowd cheered – they were off to whup Johnny Reb in a matter of months and return as heroes.

13The regiment, about 1,100 strong, left in October 1861; it was deployed in Virginia as part of V Corps of the Union Army and saw little action. That changed in late May 1862 at the Battle of Hanover Court House, north of Richmond. Then came the Seven Days’ Battle and the battles of Gaines Mill and Malvern Hill. The Second Battle of Bull Run in August followed. By October, 1862 only slightly more than 200 men from the original regiment remained – the rest has been killed, wounded, taken prisoner or were missing. After each battle, their families, like those across the country, frantically searched the action reports in the “Albany Argus” and the “Albany Evening Journal” praying they would not see the words “dead’, “killed in action”, “mortally wounded”.

Life in Albany continued against a back drop of sadness and anxiety. Dry goods stores stocked vast quantities of black crepe and other mourning goods. The Rural Cemetery which had rung the chapel bell for every internment stopped; the bell was now only rung in the morning and in the evening – the incessant din had become unbearable. Stone carvers and monument makers didn’t want for work.

14By now the men of the 44th were battle tested veterans and war weary. It was no longer a glorious war. Uncle Charlie was commissioned a Second Lt. in October 1862 and First Lt. in January 1863. While we’re sure he was a fine soldier, officers who had fallen needed to be replaced. The Regiment served at Antietam, Fredericksburg, and the debacle at Chancellorsville. By June, 1863 the 44th was matching north towards Gettysburg, along with thousands of soldiers from the North and South.

4On the afternoon of July 2, after a double time march that lasted over 12 hours, part of the 44th NY, including Company F, with Uncle Charlie and Uncle George, found itself on a strategic hill in the southern part of the battlefield. They were part of Strong Vincent’s brigade, and joined remnants of the 12th NY, and men from Pennsylvania in the center of the line. They were flanked by Michigan and Maine regiments. The fight that ensued is the stuff of legend. Waves of Texas and Alabama soldiers hurled themselves towards the boulder strewn hill; they were pushed back, only to advance again. The furious struggle lasted hours without a break, into the evening. The men from Albany grew weary, tired and thirsty. Fire was thick and relentless from both sides. Gun smoke enveloped the hill like a cloud. At times the Confederates broke through the line and hand to hand fighting pushed them back.

1716

The Union men on the hill, including Company F, ran low on ammunition – they rifled the cartridge boxes of their dead and wounded. Finally reserve forces from the 140th NY arrived, just as the 44th was being flanked. The famous Col. Paddy O’Rorke, from Rochester, lead his men headlong into the battle,. O’Rorke was killed, but his men pushed through. On the other flank, Joshua Chamberlain, commander of the 20th Maine, ordered his men, now out of ammunition, to fix bayonets and drive into the rebel onslaught.

12The Confederate soldiers retreated. There were 300 men from the 44th on the Little Round Top when the fighting started; when it was over 100 men were dead, wounded or missing – including Uncle Charlie who suffered a chest wound. The entire Brigade suffered 34% casualties, including 26 year old Strong Vincent who was mortally wounded.

Little Round Top was only one of several brutal battles across Gettysburg, The 2nd New Hampshire lost almost half its men in the Peach Orchard; men were mowed down in the Wheatfield and on Cemetery Hill. Over 3 days 160,000 men faced one another in an epic struggle. At the end of the Battle there were over 7,000 men dead, another 35,000 wounded and 10,000 missing. On the morning of the 4th of July 1863, with a third of his Army dead, Lee withdrew to the south. The Southern invasion into the North had been halted, Northern critics of the War were silenced and it became clear to the Confederacy that Lee’s juggernaut could be stopped, and for the first time, the South had to consider it might not prevail.

15The War would continue for almost another 2 years and the men from Albany in the 44th would continue for much of that time. They fought at Rappahannock Station in Fall 1863, In the Spring campaign of 1864 the remnants of the 44th fought in the Battle of the Wilderness – Uncle Charlie was wounded again. The regiment went on to fight at Spotsylvania and Bethesda Church; he returned just in time to join the 44th at the Battle of Cold Harbor and the siege of Petersburg that lasted most of the summer 1864. Finally, after the Battle of Popular Grove in Fall 1864 what was left of the Regiment limped home and were mustered out in Albany in October 1864. Uncle Charlie was done soldiering, but Uncle George and several other men from the “Albany Company” who had managed to survive 3 years of horror transferred to other regiments, serving until the end of the War.

11

About 1500 men served in the 44th NY over the course of 3 years; 750 were killed or severely wounded or went missing.

16aA monument to the 44th NY, one of the largest on the Gettysburg Battlefield, stands on the ridge of Little Round Top where the men from Albany may have turned the tide of the War and saved the Union.

 

 

 

 

 

 

8Of course the monument was designed by Uncle Charlie. After his meritorius service (and I think because he actually managed to survive, he was breveted to Captain after he mustered out of the 44th). The brevet rank was honorary, but he was rewarded by a grateful nation, as were many Union soldiers, through the Federal government patronage system. After the War he became one of the first 5 letter carriers, when mail delivery started in Albany in 1865. By the mid-1880s he was Deputy Postmaster of the City.

 

 

The other Zeilman cousins’ War experience is like many of the millions of men who served in the Union Army – 1 was promoted from corporal to captain, 1 died of disease, 1 deserted (and re-appeared in Albany years after the War was over), 1 was captured and released, and another just served his 4 years as a private – as they say, he was either lucky or kept his head down.

Advertisements

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

1

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.)

3

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.

8

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.

2

7

DSCF01631

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 .

 

Lincoln and his First Visit to Albany- 1848 – the Political Connections

 

Lincoln’s  first visit to Albany happened in 1848.  It wasn’t  nearly the extravaganza as his  pre-inauguration visit to Albany in 1861 as he made his way to Washington D.C. (most people assume that was Lincoln’s first visit to the city – not so much)  But it was much more important.

In September 1848, while Lincoln was in Congress, he ventured on a series of speaking engagements on behalf of the Whig presidential candidate Zachary Taylor in and around Boston.

3He was a political nobody, but late in his tour he met William Seward, former NYS governor, who would become U.S. Senator from NY the next year. They both gave speeches on September 22. Seward’s was aggressively anti-slavery (not just anti- Democrat). It was a pivotal meeting that informed Lincoln’s future thinking about the issue of slavery. They shared a hotel room in Worcester and according to Doris Kearns Goodwin, they talked most of the night. (Seward would become Lincoln’s Secretary of State – part of the “Team of Rivals” after he lost the Republican nomination for president to Lincoln in 1860.)

Seward had close ties with Thurlow Weed, editor of the “Albany Evening Journal” (a newspaper with a reach that extended far beyond Albany). Seward impressed upon Lincoln that on his trip back to Springfield, Ill. he had to visit Weed in Albany. (Weed was a political strategist and power broker of nationwide influence.) By 1848 he’d been a fixture in Albany for almost 30 years.

10Since Lincoln would have to stop in Albany on his way home, Lincoln agreed. He and his family (Mary and their two children had accompanied him on his tour) would have made their way from the railroad station in Greenbush across the Hudson by ferry (there was no bridge in 1848) to Maiden Lane. It’s most probable that his family stayed at one of the two main hotels near the ferry landing – the Delavan House or Stanwix Hall. Both were located on Broadway – between State St. and Steuben St. and would have been suitable for children.

 

 

 

12

11

6On his Lincoln’s way to visit Weed, if he looked south on Broadway, past State St., he would have seen the ruins of the Great Fire that had destroyed acres of Albany the previous month.

 

 

 

 

8

Lincoln appears to have found Weed in his newspaper office at 67 State St., just above James St. Weed then took him across the street to the State Hall (at the corner of State and Lodge) to meet Millard Fillmore (who was then NYS Comptroller). Fillmore was running as Taylor’s VP candidate, and would become President 2 years later upon Taylor’s death.

The meeting, by all accounts, was brief. But it gave all three men a chance to take each other’s measure. Weed and Fillmore were doing a favor for Seward – meeting a nothing burger Congressman from out west, but from a state that would become critical to the abolition movement. It gave Lincoln, a brilliant political strategist, an opportunity to meet two of the most prominent politicians of New York, a state that might be pivotal in any future endeavors. (Lincoln won NYS in 1860 by 50,000 votes – 7% – and it gave him about 20% of his electoral vote.)

Weed would become one of the founders of the Republican Party in the 1850s and a supporter of Seward in the 1860 election. He became a fixture in Washington and at the Lincoln White House, despite the fact that he and Mary Lincoln detested one another. Lincoln understood he had to stay in Weed’s good graces. (It was Weed and Seward who convinced Lincoln to donate a handwritten draft of the Emancipation Proclamation to be raffled at the Albany soldier’s relief bazaar in February 1864. That draft is in the permanent collection of the New York State Museum.)

Fillmore’s presidential policies in the 1850s contributed to the conflagration that became the Civil War. He continued to oppose Lincoln throughout his presidency and be critical of his War policies.

Fun Fillmore Factoid: In 1858, after his presidency, he would marry Caroline Macintosh, wealthy widow, in the parlor of the Schuyler Mansion (purchased by her first husband, a local railroad mogul, in the 1840s) .This was the same parlor in which Alexander Hamilton married Elizabeth Schuyler in 1780.

July is National Ice Cream Month – A Pictorial History of Ice Cream in Albany

Ice cream has been around for ever – even B.C. Thomas Jefferson had his favorite ice cream recipe. Until the mid 1800s ice cream was purely a special, special home made treat. George Washington had a sweet tooth and bought ice cream molds and scoops and dropped $200 – over $5k today – on ice cream one hot summer. (NO false teeth jokes.)

7By the 1850s ice cream saloons started to be a thing in Albany and it was one of the favorite desserts at fancy parties – on every caterers list. In the late 1800s improvements in refrigeration technology made the sale of ice cream in small grocery stores, pharmacies (soda fountains) and candy stores possible. Ice cream cones were supposedly invented at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.

Then came 1920 and Prohibition.. people in Albany like those across the country substituted sweets for booze – All Hail the Ice Cream Soda!! (and the Eskimo Pie). The Depression saw a drop in nationwide consumption; innovative marketing solved that problem; Howard Johnson’s 28 flavors, Dixie Cups, Fudgicles and Drumsticks. But the areas surrounding Albany were dairy cow country; ice cream was always a thing. There were dairies in the the West End, Arbor Hill, Menands, the South End, Lark St., North Albany, Elm St. So. Swan and south of the city in New Scotland and Bethlehem. So many cows.

By the 1940s ice cream was the uniquely all-American treat. It was so American that Mussolini banned its sale. During World War II Coca Cola and ice cream fueled the military. General Eisenhower made sure both “cold comforts” were as close to combat troops as possible.

By the late 1940s, the summer drive in the family car to an ice cream stand started to become a thing around Albany and across the country. And then, through the magic of marketing (and Stewarts) ice cream became a not just for summer treat.

Here’s a look at the ice cream stores, factories, dairies and brands in Albany over the years.

1.1

1

2

3

4

5.5

5

8

10

11

13

15

18

20

23.1

23

25

26

28

27

The French Revolution, Aristocrats, the Schuylers and Delatour Rd.

37971151_1741198725928382_5369029279747145728_n

Jean-Frédéric de La Tour-du-Pin Gouvernet was a French nobleman and politician. He defended Marie-Antoinette during her trial before the prosecutor. Consequently, he was guillotined in April 1794 (as was his elder brother) during the Reign of Terror during the really nasty years of the French Revoluton. Paris was awash in aristocratic blood.

His son Frederic, a Marquis as well and his young wife, Henriette-Lucy Dillon, age 24- (whose father was also executed during the Reign) fled for their lives to America. Henriette was especially vulnerable – she had been a lady in waiting to Marie Antoinette (as had her mother). The Queen liked to be surrounded by young, beautiful and stylish women.

The Marquis and Marquise first arrived at Boston in 1794, without “a single letter of introduction.” The owner of the ship they crossed on offered them the use of a farm he owned 18 miles from Boston, but the Marquis wanted to be “as near as possible to Canada, where he would have liked to settle.” From another exile in England came word of an American connection, a Mrs. Church, who made a recommendation to a family residing at Albany. “She was a daughter of General Schuyler who had gained a great reputation during the War of Independence … His eldest daughter had married the head of the Van Rensselaer family which was settled at Albany and possessed a large fortune in the county.” The connection made, they soon received “very pressing letters from General Schuyler in which he urged us to come without delay to Albany, where he assured us we would easily be able to establish ourselves.”

“At Boston I sold everything among the effects which we had brought with us which could bring us in a little money. As the ‘Diane’ had made the voyage without cargo, our baggage, which had cost us nothing to transport, was very considerable. We disposed of more than half of it; clothing, cloth, laces, a piano, music, porcelains – everything which would be superfluous in our little household was converted into money and then into drafts upon persons of responsibility at Albany. After remaining a month at Boston we set out with our two children, Humbert and Séraphine, the first of June, and fifteen days later we arrived at Albany. We traversed the whole state of Massachusetts, of which we admired the fertility and the air of prosperity. But a sad piece of news had made me so melancholy that I did not enjoy anything. Before leaving Boston my husband had heard of the death of my father who perished on the scaffold the thirteenth of April.”

They stayed with General Schuyler briefly, and he arranged for them to live for three months with the Jan Van Buren family, who lived not far from his brother, Col. Schuyler’s farm, and very close by the new village of Troy. They went to live “with Mr. Van Buren to learn American manners, as we had made it a condition of living with this family that they were not to change in any way the customs of the house. It was also arranged that Mrs. Van Buren should employ me in the housework the same as if I were one of her daughters.” Another Frenchman accompanying them, M. de Chambeau, “began an apprenticeship with a carpenter of the little growing city of Troy situated at a quarter of a mile from the Van Buren farm.” When news of the executions of the fathers of the Marquis and M. de Chambeau came:

“As I was a very good seamstress, I fashioned for myself my mourning costume, and my good hostess, having thus learned to appreciate the skill of my needle, found it very pleasant to have a seamstress at her command without cost, when she would have been obliged to pay a dollar a day and board if she had hired one from Albany.”

They were awaiting the arrival of funds from Holland so they could purchase a farm, and their plans in that regard, to do things the American way, tell some of the shameful hidden history of the Albany area:

“General Schuyler and Mr. Van Rensselaer advised my husband to divide his funds into three equal parts: A third for the purchase; a third for the management, the purchase of negroes, horses, cows, agricultural implements and household furniture, and a third part, added to what remained of the 12,000 francs brought by us from Bordeaux, for a reserve fund to meet unexpected circumstances, such as the loss of negroes or cattle and also for living expenses the first year. This arrangement became our rule of conduct.”

New York would not pass its first gradual emancipation law until 1799. At this time, by the evidence of the Marquise, it was simply presumed that if you were going to launch a prosperous farm, you would do so with slaves. By way of comparison, Vermont abolished adult slavery when it broke from New York with its own constitution in 1777, though there were apparently violations of the law. That was 22 years before New York’s first step toward abolition, which didn’t take on the first try.

In September 1794, the Marquis entered negotiations with a farmer “situated on the other side of the river, upon the road from Troy to Schenectady, a distance of two miles in the interior … The house was new, pretty and in very good condition. The land was only partially under cultivation. There were one hundred and fifty acres sown down, as many in woods and pasturage, a small kitchen garden of a quarter of an acre full of vegetables, and finally a handsome orchard sown with red clover and plated with cider apples. They asked us 12,000 francs. General Schuyler did not think the price exorbitant. The property was situated at four miles from Albany, upon a route which they were going to open up to communicate with the city of Schenectady, which was in a thriving situation.”

While no longer a farm, the house still stands today – on the land of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, just up from where Watervliet-Shaker Road intersects with … Delatour Road. Delatour. De La Tour. As in the name of the Marquis and Marquise. (That’s the “oh, duh!” moment.)

“The girl who attended mass at Louis XVI’s Versailles in a pink dress and six million francs’ worth of diamonds, within a decade was milking her own cow in upstate New York.”

She is said to have stamped her family crest on the butter she churned and sent to market.

By Carl Johnson

President Grant’s Funeral Procession in Albany

On August 5 , 1885 thousands of people filed into the new Capitol to view the body of President Ulysses S. Grant lying in state.

Grant died on July 23 at a cottage in Mt. McGregor* in Wilton in Saratoga County. He and his family had removed there in late spring. He was dying of cancer and in desperate financial straits. He went to the cottage (loaned to him by a friend in New York City) to finish writing his memoirs. (They would be a critical and commercial success, securing the future of his wife Julia.)

image052Many of Grant’s closest friends and allies traveled from across the country to Mt. McGregor to attend a private service on the top of the mountain on August 4th. They included the men who would come to be known for winning the Civil War under General Grant – General William Sherman who marched through the South, Albany’s own General Philip Sheridan (that’s his statue in front of the Capitol) and General Winfield Scott Hancock – who stood at Cemetery Ridge at the Battle of Gettysburg and repelled Pickett’s Charge.

After the service the funeral train made its way down the steep mountain on its journey to Albany and New York City. It stopped at Albany at the corner of Spencer and Montgomery streets, just above the D & H railroad depot at 3:40 pm. A procession formed, headed by General Hancock, and made its way to the Capitol. The buildings were draped in black crepe and people wore black armbands.

3 (2)Businesses and factories closed.The crowd was dense. Thousands lined Albany streets in the stifling heat and humidity of an August day as the procession made its way over North Pearl St. ,up State st. over Eagle St opposite the new City Hall, up Washington Ave. and then down State St. to the Capitol General Winfield Hancock, said to have been Grant’s favorite and head of the largest Civil War veterans organization in the country, lead the 4,000 marchers, mounted on a powerful black horse, to a slow and deliberate drum beat through the streets. The procession included a riderless horse, a tradition started at George Washington’s funeral.

4

Middle-aged men wrestled into their old blue wool uniforms and walked somberly in the cortege of their Commander-in Chief. Older men removed their hats and bent their heads as the carriage bearing Grant’s coffin passed. Women wept, including my great great grandmother and her children. Her oldest daughter (my great grandmother) was born in August, 1865 and named Julia, in honor of Grant’s wife. Grant had ended the war and the boys had come home. It’s unlikely there was anyone in the crowd who had not suffered loss from the War, but Grant had ended the killing.

 

3

5

The catafalque of the President was placed in the Senate corridor, surrounded by an honor guard; at 5:00 pm the public viewing began. In the first hour, 7,500 people filed in two by two. Viewing went through the night. It was estimated that over 75,000 mourners had passed through the Capitol by the time doors were shut the next morning.

 

 

 

9The trip down to the other Albany railroad station on Broadway and Steuben began at around 11 am on August 5th, to the sound of blaring trumpets. The carriage carrying the coffin was hitched to 6 black horses and, again, General Hancock lead the procession down State St. The crowds appeared even larger than the previous day. The bells of the churches tolled continuously and the dull booms of cannon from the western part of the city could be heard. At around 12:30 pm, the funeral train started on its journey to New York City where the crowds would be larger than they had been for Lincoln’s funeral train.

10

By Julie O’Connor

*Mt. McGregor is a NYS historic site. The cottage is maintained much as it was while the Grant family lived there in the summer of 1885. It’s well worth a visit.

2 (2)

 

Cuyler Reynolds and the Albany Rural Cemetery – He Got No Respect

Visitors who stop into the Albany Rural Cemetery Office for genealogical research often comment on the detailed burial index cards which are not unlike an old-fashioned library card catalog. A cache of old documents tell an interesting tale of the card file’s possible origin.

Cuyler Reynolds, brother of architect Marcus T. Reynolds, is best remembered as the Albany City Historian (which is noted on the black stone slab covering his grave in Section 17).

Cuyler was the first curator of the Albany Institute of History & Art after the older Albany Institute and Albany Historical & Art Society merged. He served as its curator from 1899 to 1909 and it was during his tenure that the museum’s famous pair of mummies was acquired.

In 1908, just after his work on the New York exhibits at the Jamestown Exposition, Cuyler Reynolds wrote a letter to attorney Marcus T. Hun (the Hun and Reynolds families were related – Marcus’ mother was the former Lydia Reynolds). The cover letter has not been located yet, but the typed statement that he enclosed reads:

“In February 1907, I addressed the Trustees of the Albany Rural Cemetery, meeting in upper room of the Mechanics & Farmers’ Bank, Dudley Olcott presiding, advocating the introduction of a card system for the records.

I submitted a tentative form of card which I had printed at my own expense.

The matter was considered to radical to be adopted at that time, and I then was appointed director of the N.Y.S. Historical Exposition at the Jamestown Exposition, where I spent the summer and fall of 1907.”

At the bottom of the typed statement, written boldly above his signature, Cuyler Reynolds wrote, “The idea was mine.”

The implication of this statement is that, after rejecting Reynolds’ proposal for a new way of filing burial records, the 1907 board adopted a strikingly similar card system in his absence. It appears that Reynold was seeking credit for the design and compensation of some sort.

37200829_1597095057065774_6681363576491343872_nMarcus T. Hun’s reply seems somewhat uninterested in taking up the cause:

“As to the Cemetery Association the matter seems to rest with you and Mr. Burns, and possibly if you wish to get closer to the trustees, with Mr. Dudley Olcott.

I hope you will be be able to make some arrangement that will be satisfactory to you, as it seems to me that it would be to the advantage of the Cemetery to have you clear up these defects in the old records.”

Marcus T. Hun would later serve as president of the Albany Cemetery Association until his death in 1920.

This is where the paper trail ends for now. Did Cuyler ever resolve the issue and receive any credit for his design which is indeed strikingly similar to the file system in use now? The answer might lie in the long missing Trustee minutes which have not been seen since they were misplaced during one of the many mergers and moves of local banks, including the old Mechanics & Farmers.

Cuyler Reynolds, “widely known as a collector and historian, and official historian of the city of Albany” (and likely designer of the Rural Cemetery’s card system) died on May 24, 1934. He was buried in the large Dexter-Reynolds family plot in Lot 1, Section 17. More of his story will be told another time. Marcus T. Hun is also buried in the same lot.

37269420_1597086950399918_7141444617882304512_n

37296617_1597086247066655_8025555793153622016_n

37302638_1597086710399942_4578214887318093824_o

Willett Rock in Washington Park

 

4Recently we were asked, “Hey, what’s the deal with the boulder in Washington Park?”

A great question and timely too. The boulder is known as “Willett Rock” and commemorates Lt. Colonel Marinus Willett, a soldier who played a pivotal role in the American Revolution and went on to be mayor of New York City in the early 1800s.

But what does that have to do with Albany? A LOT!!

In summer 1777 British forces under Lt. Colonel Barry St. Leger were making their way east along the Mohawk Valley to join General Burgoyne coming down from the north – objective Albany. The British were making their way up the Hudson as well and there was no doubt Albany would be occupied by the British. It was only a matter of time. Albany was a strategic and tactical target. Albany, as the epicenter of the Northern Department of the Continental Army, was the site of military storehouses, warehouses, a powder house and armory. It was the staging area for all American troops in the Northern Department as well as the site of the military hospital (at Pine and Lodge). More importantly, occupation of the Hudson from Albany to New york City would give British control of New York State and separate New England (thought to be the heart of the resistance) from the other colonies – dividing the burgeoning Union.

Albany in Peril
The city was faced with the prospect of “savage butchery and unscrupulously soldiery” under the British and their Indian allies. It was a long hot summer of terror. The city was over-crowded, filled with people who had fled to Albany in the face of Burgoyne’s march south. Extra supplies were being stockpiled in the Fort at the top of the hill. Those planning to stay were prepared to defend the city (People were ready to bury their silver and hide their daughters.) Others were getting ready to flee. Albany would be trapped by the approaching British from the south, west, north and by the River on the east.

3The Best Laid Plans
But the British plans fell apart west of Albany at Fort Stanwix* and the Battle of Oriskany. Fort Stanwix (known then as Fort Schuyler) was first surrounded by the British, Indians (lead by Joseph Brant) and Tory and Hessian contingents on August 3, 1777, when the Fort refused to surrender. Inside the Fort were American troops under Colonel Peter Gansevoort**. His second in command was Marinus Willett.

2

Old Glory
But let’s stop here for a moment – on the second day of the siege legend has it that the American flag was flown in battle for the first time. Willett recalled, “…………..a respectable one was formed the white stripes were cut…the blue strips out of a Cloak…The red stripes out of different pieces of stuff collected from sundry persons. The Flagg was sufficiently large and a general Exhilaration of spirits appeared on beholding it Wave the morning after the arrival of the enemy.”

Battle of Oriskany
On August 4 part of the British force (primarily the Indians) ambushed American forces at Oriskany, east of the Fort. The Americans were routed in one of the fiercest and bloodiest battles of the War. But a party of about 250 soldiers in the Fort, under the command of Colonel Willett, took the opportunity to raid and loot the British camp, making away with dozens of wagons of supplies. 38975452_242333083283004_566993364482785280_n

The British Bluff
St Leger’s command was demoralized, but banking on the victory at Oriskany he sent yet another surrender demand to the Fort. It included news (fake) that Burgoyne was in Albany, and threats Indians would be permitted to massacre the garrison and destroy the surrounding farms and communities. Willett replied, basically saying .. for a British officer you are sooooo ungentlemanly (and by the way, our answer is no).

The General’s Ruse
On the night of August 8th, Gansevoort sent Willett and another officer east, through British lines, to notify General Philip Schuyler (commander of the Northern Department) of their situation. In route they met General Benedict Arnold on his way to relieve the Fort. Although he only had a force of about 700 -800, Arnold crafted a genius disinformation campaign (involving a captured local Loyalist) to spread the word he had 3,000 troops. St. Leger’s force by that time was dwindling, through defections from the annoyed Indians (after all, Willett had stolen all their stuff and the siege was dragging on) and Hessian desertions.*** He was faced with seemingly overwhelming odds. St. Leger broke off the siege on August 22nd, and headed back west.

Victory!
So, the failure of St. Leger to bring additional troops to an already beleaguered Burgoyne led to his defeat less than 2 months later at the Battle of Saratoga (which saved Albany and changed the course of the Revolutionary War). Way to go Martinus!
.
Back to the Rock 8
And that is story of why we wanted to honor Col. Willett – his bravery was instrumental in saving Albany.

The granite boulder was placed in Washington Park at the corner of Willett and State streets to honor Willett in 1907 by the Sons of the Revolution. ****

We have never been able to figure why a rock as a monument (rocks are cheap?). We know there was a multi-year search across upstate for just the right rock, but we’re not sure why this particular rock was selected. (It may have come from the Oriskany battlefield, but we’re not sure.)

7

The plaque on the rock features a profile of Willett and the following inscription:

In Grateful Memory of General Marinus Willett 1740 – 1836
“For His Gallant and Patriotic Services In
Defense of Albany And The People of
The Mohawk Valley Against Tory And Indian
Foes During The Years of The War For
Independence, This Stone, Brought From The
Scenes of Conflict And Typical of His Rugged Character,
Has Been Placed Here Under The Auspices of The
Sons of The Revolution
In The State of New York
By The Philip Livingston Chapter
A.D. 1907”

*Fort Stanwix is a national historic site in Rome NY, north of the NYS Thruway – it’s open 7 days a week, from 9 am to 5 pm, April 1 – December 31.
**Gansevoort would later be promoted to General and was the grandfather of author Herman Melville (“Moby Dick”). He’s buried in Albany Rural Cemetery – Section 55, Plot 1.
*** The Hessian troops were the Hanau–Hesse Chasseurs. During the siege and battle they discovered they were in the middle of verdant and fertile farmland, much of the local population spoke German as their primary language and there were many pretty girls. Genealogies of the area are filled with Hessian soldiers who deserted the British army and ended up in the small villages of the Mohawk Valley populated by German Americans. They could blend in and no one would be the wiser.
**** This memorial was originally located elsewhere in the park, but was moved to its present location several years ago (we believe after having been struck several times by cars missing a sharp turn).

 

HOW ALBANY GREW

(From the Spring 2018 “Capital Neighbors” newsletter by Tony Opalka, Albany City Historian)

Did you ever wonder where the name South End/Groesbeckville Historic District Came from?

The Southend/Groesbeckville district in the southeast corner of the city, surrounds the Schuyler Mansion. It includes the area between Lincoln Park and Second Avenue from about Franklin and South Pearl Streets on the east, to Eagle and Elizabeth Streets on the west. The question is particularly timely because the Preservation League of New York State just published its annual list of “Seven to Save,” endangered historic properties across the state on April 10th, including Albany’s South End/Groesbeckville Historic District because of its large stock of abandoned and deteriorating buildings (many of which could possibly be restored).

It should concern us all that this part of Albany’s historic fabric continues to suffer decline, as it illustrates part of Albany’s period of growth from about 1850 to 1900.

This article, however, is one of my occasional stories about how Albany got into the “shape” that it’s in and how the name Groesbeckville fits into that narrative.

We’re all familiar with the term “South End,” in part because of my many tours and talks in the South End. I’ve gotten into lively discussions with attendees about what defines the South End — somewhere between Madison Avenue and the Port of Albany. So many people in the city today can trace their roots to this part of the city (myself included), but the South End means different things to different people.

Long before the term South End was used, the name Groesbeckville had already come to refer to the part of the town of Bethlehem immediately adjacent to the southern city line, which until 1870 remained as it had been since incorporation of the city in 1686.

At South Pearl Street, a small remnant of that line is Gansevoort Street, now a two-block long street that runs from the southbound entrance ramp to 787, to South Pearl Street about a block below Fourth Avenue. Originally called South Street, it separated the city from the Manor of Rensselaerwyck and, after 1793, the town of Bethlehem.

By the middle of the 19th century, however, the area along South Pearl and parallel streets Broad, Clinton, Elizabeth and others, as well as east-west streets all the way to Historic Cherry Hill below Second Avenue, originally called Whitehall Road, had become fully urbanized, both within and without the city. The map below, from 1866, shows the old city line and the area immediately adjacent to it along South Pearl Street designated as Groesbeckville, an unincorporated hamlet
in the town of Bethlehem.

As early as 1861, citizens of Albany petitioned the Common Council to apply to the New York State Legislature to extend the city boundaries to the north and south as they then existed:

“Without an increase of territory this city cannot longer maintain its rank in population or importance; while just outside of its limits suburban settlements are springing up without such municipal regulations and controls as are requisite to prevent the accumulation of nuisances and of nuisances to us and to their own people. … While portions of the adjoining towns now thickly settled or occupied for business purposes enjoy the protection of our Fire and Police Departments, and participate in almost every benefit of our city government, to nearly as great an extent as property in the city, justice seems to demand that they contribute to the support of such government…..”

Sound familiar?

Five years later in 1866, residents of Bethlehem submitted their own petition to the Albany Common Council requesting that the area bounded by the river, the old city line (Gansevoort, and roughly Woodlawn Avenue and Cortland Street in western Albany) all the way to Allen Street extended southward to the
Normanskill be annexed to Albany.

Not wanting to be left out, residents of Watervliet along the north boundary of the city, submitted their own petition, asking that a portion of that town be annexed to Albany, also in 1866. This would have corresponded to the present-day boundary with Menands, but extending westward to a northern extension of Allen Street, somewhere in present-day Colonie. This area included the Van Rensselaer Manor House (about where Nipper is located today), the Erie Canal and Lumber District, and the existing hamlet of North Albany.

Ironically, the “lumber barons,” whose businesses were located along the Erie Canal in the town of Watervliet, but whose residences were located along Ten Broeck Street, petitioned the Common Council in 1867 to NOT annex part of Watervliet, stating that “in their judgment it would materially increase their taxation both in said districts (business and residential) and in the city, without any corresponding benefits to compensate therefore.”

Well, the forces of annexation won out, because on April 6, 1870, the New York State Legislature passed a law annexing parts of both towns to Albany, although a much smaller land area than originally proposed. Rather than go all the way to
the Normanskill, the new line separating Bethlehem from Albany ran a zig-zag line from the river all the way to Allen Street as if it were extended south of New Scotland Avenue. On the north, the annexation included North Albany but a zig-zag line that ran in some places within the Patroon’s Creek all the way west to Russell Road near Westgate Shopping Center.

At the same time, the City of Albany gave Watervliet all the land as far west as the Albany-Schenectady County line — what is now the University, Washington Avenue Extension and a good portion of the Pine Bush.

A year later, Watervliet ceded it to Guilderland.

It would take another 100 years for Albany to achieve its current boundarie

What was there? The NYS Education Building and West Capitol Park across from each other on Washington Ave.

 

The Education Building was started in 1908 and completed in 1912. The buildings on the opposite side of Washington Ave. were demolished for West Capitol Park in 1919., as well as the buildings that were actually behind the Capitol, within what is the Park today, on Congress St. and Capitol Place.

(Capitol Pl. ran between Washington Ave. and State St., parallel to the Capitol. Congress St. was a stub of a road, perpendicular to S Swan and the Capitol.)

 

3

432679833_1647684661946456_2781068740945510400_o

5

6

7.jpg

9

10.jpg

32655357_1647684085279847_8108881822303125504_n