Mary McPherson’s Gift to Albany

Mary McPherson was born in Scotland in 1804 to Lachlan McPherson and his wife, Mary Mitchell. In her childhood, she lived near the River Tay in a house built by Lachlan himself.

When Mary was about fourteen and her brother, John was twenty-six, the McPherson family moved to America. They had friends in Albany who looked after them and helped Lachlan to obtain work.

Her father became the custodian of the old State Hall at the corner of State and Lodge Streets and John became a carpenter. Both men were respected for their honesty and humor as well as for their skilled work. Mary would later work as a housekeeper for many years. The family lived in quarters on the upper floors of the State Hall where they were known for their thrift, though Mary was regarded as somewhat eccentric for her love of bright clothing even as she passed into spinsterhood. Her dress and hair were often adorned with flowers.

In 1839, Mary’s mother died and was buried in the Presbyterian lot of the old State Street Burying Grounds (now Washington Park), though her grave and modest headstone were later moved to Albany Rural Cemetery. Around this time, Lachlan, John, and Mary moved to a small farm on Patroon Street, now Clinton Avenue. That block is now called McPherson Terrace in honor of the family.

Lachlan died in 1859, leaving all of his money and property to both children. John died in 1881. With the loss of her family, Mary put aside her colorful clothing and wore mourning for them for the rest of her life.

Mary was now the sole heir to the McPherson estate. Her family’s thrift and her own saving made for a substantial amount of money, but Mary had no one to inherit it. She had never married, nor had John.
At the age of seventy-seven, Mary decided that she wanted her modest fortune to honor both her family and her country of birth in some public way. In drawing up her will, she made Peter Kinnear, a well-known businessman and another native of Scotland as my executor. While a portion of her money was set aside for the poor of Albany, the bulk of the estate would go to create a permanent tribute to the McPhersons and their homeland.

abMary died in 1886. She was buried in Lot 26, Section 15 where a monument of rose-colored Scottish granite marks the McPherson lot. Carved thistles, a symbol of her homeland, adorn the stone.

 

 

 

 

 

Peter Kinnear carried out Mary’s wishes, commissioning sculptor Charles Calverley to create a heroine bronze statue of the Bard of Caledonia, Robert Burns. The statue sits atop of pedestal with panels depicting scenes from the poets’ works such as “Tam O’Shanter’s Ride” and “Auld Lang Syne.” The monument stands near the eastern edge of Washington Park and the words, “THE MCPHERSON LEGACY TO THE CITY OF ALBANY” are carved on the back of the pedestal.

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By Paula Lemire – Historian Albany Rural Cemetery

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Please consider joining the Friends of Albany Rural Cemetery or renewing your membership if you haven’t already. Membership forms were recently mailed, but if you haven’t received one yet, please contact us with your mailing address and we’ll send one to you. The support of the Friends is vital to the financial health of the Cemetery.

 

Albany Rural Cemetery
Cemetery Avenue, Albany, NY
(518) 463-7017

info@albanyruralcemetery.org

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Albany’s Dianna Mingo (1767-1872)

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

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

The Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Paula Lemire, Historian Albany Rural Cemetery

Albany’s Baker Street Irregular: Frederic Dorr Steele – Sherlock Holmes Illustrator

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“The Sherlock Holmes story started with ‘A Study In Scarlet” in 1887. Three or four English illustrators tried their hand at picturing the sleuth but the man who jelled the famous profile for the British was Sidney Paget. He was one of Sir Arthur’s favorite illustrators.

But Americans know Sherlock through the work of another artist, the late Frederic Dorr Steele, who illustrated most of the Holmes’ stories on this side of the Atlantic and whose sharp pen and ink sketches are almost as well known as the yarns themselves.”
— Rochester Democrat Chronicle, April 6, 1952

Frederic Dorr Steele was born in Eagle Mills, Michigan on August 6, 1873. His father, William Henry Steele, was a native of Albany, part of a large extended family. The Steele family had deep roots in Albany and their ancestors included early Dutch settlers and the Livingston family. His mother, Zulma DeLacy Dorr, was born in Ghent, Columbia County; she was an artist of some repute. His maternal grandmother. Julia Ripley Dorr, was a hugely popular and critically acclaimed novelist and poet of the Victorian period.

As a young man, Frederic moved to New York City to study art at the National Academy of Design. From the 1890s on, he worked as an illustrator for magazines such as The Illustrated American and Scribner’s.

In 1903, he began to illustrate Sherlock Holmes stories for Collier’s Magazine. He would produce numerous drawings of the legendary detective for the remainder of his professional career. He based his drawings of the legendary detective on actor William Gillette who portrayed Holmes on stage beginning in 1899 and in a silent film in 1916. zz

Between Gillette’s onstage image and Steele’s drawings, the image of Sherlock Holmes with his sharp features, calabash pipe, and deerstalker cap took hold in American culture, and has endured for over a century.

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Steele married Mary Thyng in 1898 and the couple resided in Nutley, New Jersey until 1912 when he returned to New York City. Frederic and Mary separated in 1936.

Steele spent his last years living at 717 Greenwich Street and, on July 6, 1944, he died at Bellevue Hospital at the age of 70. He was cremated and, on October 30, 1945, his ashes were brought to Albany for burial in a very old family plot originally purchased by his great-grandfather, Lemuel Steele.

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Frederic’s grave is a narrow, unmarked space between his father’s headstone and the southwest corner post of Lot 61, Section 5 on the South Ridge.

By Paula Lemire, Historian at the Albany Rural Cemetery,  from her Facebook Page: Albany Rural Cemetery – Beyond the Graves. Albany Rural Cemetery- Beyond the Graves

Albany’s Gertrude Valentine – World War I volunteer – killed in France

There are scores of World War I soldiers buried at Albany Rural Cemetery. Some, like sixteen year old James Armstrong and pilot George Goodwin died in the War. Others lived to serve in World War II. There are also several Army nurses buried here.

In Section 27, Lot 16, a large dark granite cenotaph bears the following inscription:

“In Loving Memory of Gertrude Crissey Valentine
Born April 8, 1890
Died in France June 11, 1919
while serving her God and Country
Buried in Le Mans Cemetery
American Officers Row No. 177 Sec A”

“She died in the line of duty.”

Gertrude was raised at 80 Chestnut Street in Albany. Her father, Clarence Valentine, was a partner in a firm making such wooden products as packing boxes, moldings, shingles, as well as felt weather stripping. Gertrude attended the State College for Teachers’ Model School from kindergarten, then went on to Vassar College where she graduated in 1913. She returned to Albany and continued her education at the State College with plans for a teaching career. She was also involved in local musical societies as newspapers mention young Miss Valentine playing the piano and coronet at various social functions.

During the War, she went to England and then to France with the YMCA. At the close of the War, while still serving as a canteen worker, she was killed in an automobile accident. Her grave is now in Plot C, Row 7, Grave 13, Oise-Aisne American Cemetery, Fere-en-Tardenois, France.

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Between 25,000 – 30,00 American women served overseas in World War I. Over 100 were women  from Albany.  They included nurses working at field hospitals and Base Hospital 33 (established by Albany Hospital-now Albany Med-in Portsmouth England, the Red Cross, the YWCA and the Salvation Army, many of whom worked close to combat areas.Gertrude Valentine was one of approximately 125 American women who died in the line of duty in the Great War.

Never forget that women who couldn’t even vote went off to war to serve their country.

By Paula Lemire from the Facebook Page Albany Rural Cemetery – Beyond the Graves

Miller’s Nook-Albany Rural Cemetery –

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Prior to the acquisition of the land by the Albany Cemetery Association between 1841 and 1844, a portion of the grounds in and around the south ravine was occupied by several buildings, most notably a mill and a small schoolhouse.

According to Charles Heisler, a past Superintendent of the Cemetery who compiled an extremely detailed handwritten record of all the land purchases that comprise the present Cemetery site, about half of the original acres purchased by the Albany Cemetery Association had been owned by John Hillhouse, a West Point graduate and the engineer who did some of the earliest survey work on the site.

Hillhouse had inherited his portion of the site from his father, Thomas, and John attended the little school on the south bank of what became Consecration Lake. This land is described as “the South Ridge from about Section 104 east to the Chapel and from the southern boundary north to Moordanaer’s Kill, the stream between the South and Middle Ridges.” He also left behind a detailed account of what existed on this land prior to the laying out of the Cemetery:

“The brook (called by the old Dutch inhabitants of the valley ‘Moordenaer’s kill,’ from a tradition of a murder committed near the bridge that crossed its mouth at the time the road between Albany and Troy ran along the river bank), originally hugged the base of the hills bounding the dell on its northerly side. The school-house stood directly on its bank on the south side, at the base of the most prominent of these hills, whose top was crowned with a lofty pine. The mill was further up the stream, on the same side with the school-house, just at the point where it emerged from the ravine and entered the open dell. A bridge now occupies its site. It was called the “old oil mill,” and was originally built by my father for the purpose of preparing oil-cake for the fattening of cattle. The house was for the miller’s use. There were two dams on the creek above for the supply of water for the mill, one at the bend just beyond the high bridge, the other on the site of the present dam at the outlet of the lake above. From the former the water was conveyed in an open plank race carried along the slope of the hill, and discharged through a long, high trough upon the over-shot wheel. The mill and dwelling were erected about 1816. How long they served their original purpose I am not able to say exactly, but probably some five or six years….

About 1829, the mill, having been leased to some parties for the manufacture of printers’ ink, the school, with its fixtures and dunce-block, was removed to the new school building, which my father built and which is still standing on the south side of the Cemetery avenue. The manufacture of ink not proving a success, the work was abandoned and the school-house became thereafter the home of one of the farm laborers, while the mill was given up to the bats and flying squirrels, and suffered to go to decay. In this state they continued until 1846, when, in the purchase made by Gov. Wm. L. Marcy and Thomas W. Olcott for the Albany Rural Cemetery, they became the property and passed into the possession of that most worthy association and fell before the tide of improvement.”

Nothing, of course, survives of the “old oil mill.” The last traces of it appear on the first published map of the Cemetery in 1845. Just to the north of Consecration Lake, a curved open space is identified as “Miller’s Nook” (now the area of the Spaulding and Springsteen family plots in Section 62, Lots 97 and 98) and the site of the present stone bridge is called “Mill Side Bridge.” By 1858, however, when “Churchill’s Guide Through The Albany Rural Cemetery” was published, these names had disappeared completely from the new map.

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1880s view of the area of the “old oil mill.” The stone bridge is just behind the large tree to the left of the fountain. The “Miller’s Nook” is on the right just behind the man on the shore of Consecration Lake.
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The waterfall on the Moordanaer’s Kill.
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The Hillhouse family plot in Section 4, Lot 1. The large monument on the left is reportedly the first granite one erected in the Cemetery.

From Albany Rural Cemetery- Beyond the Graves

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.

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The First Burials in Albany Rural Cemetery- 1845

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A tall monument marked with the name “Strain” stands at the edge of a steep hill at the eastern edge of the North Ridge. It is a fairly simple tombstone by Albany marble cutter John Dixon,but an inscription on its south face tells that it marks “The First Interment In The Cemetary” (note the incorrect spelling of cemetery).

These first burials at the Rural Cemetery took place in May, 1845. Twenty-one year old David Strain died of consumption on October 24, 1844, just a few weeks after the consecration. Buried at the same time were Rebecca and Isabelle Strain. Rebecca was an infant sister who died in 1829. The records don’t indicate twenty-five year old Isabelle’s relationship to David. She may have been his paternal aunt; she died of an inflammation of the brain in 1819.

While the Cemetery had already been dedicated when he died, it was not yet completed; there was still landscaping required, new paths to be laid out, and other improvements to be made. It is likely that young David’s remains would have been placed in one of the public receiving vaults still in use at the old State Street Burying Grounds until the family plot was ready to receive him, along with Rebecca and Isabelle.

A sentimental poem later published in the Albany Argus hints that David may have gone abroad to seek a cure and reads: “Sleep on, it seems but yesterday,Thou wert in foreign lands, Where thou wert met by glowing hearts, And more than friendly hands. When all the spells their love had tried Could not thy health restore, Weary and faint, you dared the sea To reach thy home once more.”

David and Rebecca were children of Albany soap and candle manufacturer Joseph Strain. His soap and candle factory stood at 54 Church Street in Albany, his residence was a few doors away at 63 Church. The family’s summer home still stands at the corner of Broadway and McDonald Circle in Menands. For many years, it served as the Home For Aged Men.

The Strain family plot is located on what was originally called Kennisau Hill and later renamed Landscape Hill. It is now simply Lot 46, Section 6.

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The Grim Past of Van Rensselaer Park

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Located between the vacant St. Joseph’s Church and the Ten Broeck Mansion (identified on the 1876 map below as the property of Thomas W. Olcott), Van Rensselaer Park is a small and pretty wedge of urban greenspace.

Framed by Ten Broeck Street, Ten Broeck Place, Hall Place, and Second Street, it features a modern playground and an elegant 19th-century iron fence. Its history, however, goes back to the mid-18th century and the Patroons of Rensselaerwyck.

On October 31 1764, Stephen Van Rensselaer II deeded this parcel of land to the City of Albany specifically for the purpose of a cemetery. At the time, this area was known as “The Colonie,” though by 1808 it was annexed to the city proper.

Known variously over the years as the Colonie Burial Ground, the Arbor Hill Burial Ground, and the Van Rensselaer Burial Ground, the Patroon intended that the lot be used held by the city “on the condition that the same should not be applied to any private purpose or secular use, but should remain as a burial ground or cemetery for all persons in the manor of Rensselaerwyck.”

The Van Rensselaer Burial Ground is not to be confused with the private vault which was later built on the grounds of the Van Rensselaer Manor House for the interment of the Patroon’s own family and which was later torn down in favor of a large plot at the Albany Rural Cemetery.

As with the municipal State Street Burying Grounds at the western edge of the city, the little Arbor Hill Burial Ground eventually became an eyesore. The streets around it were filling up with elegant new houses. Construction and improvements to the surrounding streets altered the grade of the land around the old cemetery. Removal of the surrounding soil raised the burial grounds edges to an embankment of some fifteen feet. Bones and coffins were often exposed as sand was removed. Sometimes the remains tumbled into adjacent lots. The surrounding wooden fence was in ruins.

The well-to-do residents of Ten Broeck Triangle were not pleased to see gloomy old tombstones and exposed remains from their windows and stoops. Local property owners, including Joseph Hall (the namesake of Hall Place), advocated for its removal.

An 1844 report to the Common Council observed:

“The whole presents a neglected and ruinous aspect, which must be painful to the surviving friends of the dead, who are buried there, and a source of annoyance to a neighborhood daily becoming more populous, notwithstanding the obstacle to its growth which this burying ground presents…..would not be expedient to continue to use this ground for future interments. The public are becoming every day more convinced of the inconveniences and painful associations, as well as the unhealthiness of burying the dead in the midst of the habitations of the living, and it is to be hoped that the practice with us, as it is in very many cities, will be entirely discontinued. Apart from the other considerations, this ground, after all that may be done for its improvement, will still present an appearance of insecurity, which must deter most persons from allowing their friends to be buried in it. We are, however, bound to protect the remains of those who now lie there, and the question presents itself whether it is better to put the ground in as decent condition as possible, or to remove the remains to a proper place where they may remain undisturbed in future.”

One expensive proposed remedy was a new fence of varying heights to enclose the forlorn graveyard. Another proposal called for removing the old remains to a lot at the new Rural Cemetery and erecting a suitable monument over them.

“We propose then, in place of maintaining at a heavy expense to the city the present unsightly burying ground on Arbor Hill, that the remains of those buried there should be carefully removed to the new cemetery and then deposited in a vault over which a handsome monument shall be erected – on the monument the names of dead may be inscribed and it will thus stand as a perpetual memorial. Neither the growth of the city or any probable contingency will ever disturb the remains there deposited – survivors will no longer be shocked by seeing the bones of their relatives bleaching in the sun, but will feel a comfort and joy in seeing the place of their repose surrounded as it will be by the most appropriate associations, and their own pathway to the grave may be made more cheerful by the thought that the same resting place may at the appointed time receive their own remains, as well as those of their friends.”

In the end, neither plan was adopted. On October 1, 1849, Stephen Van Rensselaer III deeded the land to the city again. Now that the city held title to the land without the stipulation that it be used for burials, work began to clear the graves and transform the old boneyard into a small park (just two decades later, the State Street Burying Grounds would similarly be converted to Washington Park)

Relatives of the deceased at were given a chance to remove the bodies of their kin from the Arbor Hill Burial Grounds at their own expense; a few were indeed transferred to the Rural Cemetery. The rest would be disposed of by the city. According to a 1901 column in the Albany Evening Journal:

“A large underground vault was placed in the center of the plot and all bodies not claimed were put in the common vault and the spot covered. The bones, or what remains of them, are now reposing within the confines of the park.”

The articles and records make little or no mention of what became of the old headstones. They might have been stacked inside the vault, recycled for paving and other purposes, or simply discarded.

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Originally posted  by Paula Lemire to http://albanynyhistory.blogspot.com/

Samuel Schuyler – Afro-American Riverboat Captain

Samuel Schuyler was born in 1781, but very little is known of his early life, though it has been speculated that he was related to THE Albany Schuylers,.

Like many other African-Americans of his era, Samuel began his working life as a laborer on Quay Street, along Albany’s thriving waterfront. By 1810, he had his own boat to haul lumber, produce, and other goods. He would expand his business interest to real estate, owning a substantial number of lots along South Pearl Street and adjoining streets.

Sometime prior to 1805, he married Mary Martin-Morin; the couple would have eleven children. Several sons would join him in business, as partners in a flour and feed store and, later, they would establish the Schuyler Towboat Company. His oldest son and namesake owned the large house at the corner of Ash Grove and Trinity Place; it was the younger Schuyler who added the distinctive cupola with fine views of the Hudson River, the primary source of the family’s fortune.

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The elder Captain Schuyler died in 1842 and was buried at the Albany Rural Cemetery. An anchor carved on his monument does double duty a symbol of faith and hope and a nod to his career.

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It’s interesting to note that, when his son and namesake died in 1894, the New York Times obituary made no mention of the family’s African-American heritage and referred to his ancestors as “the early Dutch settlers of Albany.”

Eight short stories recalling the lives of African Americans buried in the Albany Rural Cemetery

 

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Mention the Albany Rural Cemetery and the most common response is, “Oh, that’s where President Arthur is buried!”

Its 467 acres contain the graves of governors, mayors, soldiers, actors, bankers, and poets, as well as works of monumental art by Erastus Dow Palmer, Robert Launitz, and Charles Calverley.

Buried here, too, are dozens of prominent figures in Albany’s African-American history — from slaves to doctors.

Here are the stories of some of those Albany residents…

Born Before The Revolution

An Albany Daily Evening Times article from 1873 reported on the death and funeral of a woman named Diana Mingo who, at 106 years (or, according to some sources, 105 years and 6 months), was said to be the oldest person buried in The Rural to date. Born in Schodack as the slave of Matthew Beekman, she was reportedly freed before New York State’s gradual emancipation began in 1799. For a time, she worked as a cook for the Van Rensselaer family at their manor house in Albany.

Mingo was well known among her friends and neighbors for her vivid recollections of the Revolution and Lafayette’s celebrated visit to Albany in 1825. She died on July 25, 1872 and her funeral was held at the African Methodist Episcopal Church on Hamilton Street. Attendance was so great that mourners overflowed the pews and sat on the pulpit steps. She was buried on the cemetery’s North Ridge in a lot owned by her niece, Mary G. Jackson. Her grave is not marked. (Lot 8, Section 99).

Soldier of the Revolution

Benjamin Lattimore, a leading member of Albany’s post-Revolution African-American community and founder of the A.M.E. Church, was born a free man in Weathersfield, Connecticut in 1761. He was living in Ulster County, New York at the beginning of the Revolution and helped his family operate a ferry there. The fifteen-year old Lattimore enlisted in the Ulster County militia in September 1776. He took part in the battle for Manhattan and, a year later, was captured by the British at Fort Montgomery near West Point. Relegated to the role of a servant by British officers, Lattimore was recovered by the Americans in Westchester County and returned to service in the Continental Army. In 1779, he visited Albany for the first time when his regiment, en route to the Schoharie and Mohawk Valleys, was forced by ice to remain in the city for two weeks.

In 1794, Lattimore settled in Albany and found employment as a licensed cartman. Within five years, he had purchased several lots in the area of South Pearl Street, as well as a two-story brick home at 9 Plain Street (an area now covered by the Times Union Center). Described as a man of “irreproachable character for integrity and uprightness,” Lattimore became a pillar of early Albany’s middle class black community; he was a founding member of the Albany African Temperance Society, the first black school. This veteran of the Revolution died in April 1838 and was buried at the State Street Burying Grounds. His remains were moved to the Church Grounds section of the Rural Cemetery during the mass disinterment of the Burying Grounds in 1868. His headstone, and that of his wife are now missing. (Lot 14, Section 49)

The Two Adam Blakes

Beginning in slavery, the first Adam Blake’s life spanned from the Revolutionary War to the middle of the Civil War. Born in New York City around 1773, he was brought to Albany while still young, where he was a servant to Stephen Van Rensselaer III. As an adult, he would become manager of the household staff at the Van Rensselaer Manor. Until it was abolished by the city in 1811, he presided as the master of ceremonies of the popular Pinkster celebrations held by Albany’s black community each spring on what is now Capitol Hill. He also took part in the grand ceremonies welcoming Lafayette on his return visit to Albany in 1824, shielding the elderly French patriot from the sun with an umbrella at all times during the procession through the city. He was also one of the first depositors on record with the Albany Savings Bank after its founding in 1820. Adam Blake married Sarah Richards in 1803.

When Blake died at the age of 94 in 1864, the first Adam Blake was remembered as a “remarkable man” who “commanded respect by that high order of good breeding and courtesy to all, for which he was proverbial.” Stephen Van Rensselaer IV sent a message to his funeral at the Old Dutch Church to express regret that his own ill health preventing him from paying his respects in public.

kenmore hotel ad appletons guide 1893
The younger Adam Blake would found the Kenmore Hotel on Pearl Street in 1880.

According to his obituary, the younger Adam Blake was an adopted son. Raised at the Van Rensselaer Manor, where he received his early schooling alongside the Van Rensselaer children, he would later be regarded as one of the most successful black businessmen of his era. Described as “a born hotel owner” who took to the profession as instinctively “as a fish takes to water,” he first went to work as a porter in the famous Delavan House and was eventually promoted to head-waiter there. He rapidly built his reputation as a restaurant proprietor with the opening of his own establishment on Beaver Street in 1851. Well-known as “a first-class caterer for the public,” he became the owner of Congress Hall, a notable Albany hotel heavily used for lodgings, meals, and meetings by countless politicians during the state’s legislative sessions. Congress Hall, which stood at the corner of Washington Avenue and Park Street near both the old State Capitol and City Hall, ranked with the Delavan House as one of the leading Albany hotels of its era.

In 1878, Congress Hall was demolished by the state to make way for the construction of the new State Capitol. With the money he received in compensation for the building, Blake established the Kenmore Hotel at the corner of North Pearl and Columbia Streets. Designed by architect Edward Ogden, Blake’s new hotel would be described as “the most elegant structure on the finest street in Albany.” He managed the hotel until his death in 1881. Known as a generous man “who never turned away a stranger or neighbor in need, he left an estate valued at $100,000 when he died. And his widow, Catherine, successfully managed the Kenmore herself until 1887. Adam Blake II was buried in his family lot at the Rural Cemetery and memorialized with a stained glass window at the Israel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Hamilton Street. (Lot 22, Section 42)

The Riverboat Captain

Albany Rural Samuel Schuyler marker

A towering marble monument on the Middle Ridge overlooking the Cemetery chapel is carved with large anchors which, in this instance, symbolize both faith and the deceased’s profession — Samuel Schuyler was a successful riverboat captain. He was born in 1781, but little is known of his origins or of his connection (if any) to the family of General Philip Schuyler.

Samuel Schuyler worked as a laborer along the city’s riverfront before operating his own towboat on the Hudson. Widely respected as a captain on the river, he also invested well in real estate in what is now Albany’s South End, eventually owning much of a two-block parcel between South Pearl Street and the Hudson River. With his sons he established a hay and feed business, Samuel Schuyler & Company at Franklin and Bassett Streets, as well as a coal yard.

Captain Schuyler died in 1842. His sons would continue doing business on the river with the founding of the Schuyler Towboat Company. (Lot 66, Section 59)

A Physician and Inventor

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz20139808_1375260859188839_4575257260972589733_nThomas Elkins, born in 1819, was one of the few black doctors in Albany during the 19th century. According to an 1897 edition of The Druggists’ Circular and Chemists’ Gazette, Elkins received his early apothecary training under one Dr. Wynkoop, “a physician and druggist of the old school,” before studying dentistry and surgery. He operated a pharmacy on 84 North Swan Street and, later, at Broadway and Livingston Avenue.

During the years prior to the Civil War, Elkins — who lived at 186 Lumber Street Avenue (now Livingston Avenue) — was active with the Underground Railroad in Albany as member of its Vigilance Committee. At the time, the home of Stephen and Harriet Myers, just a half dozen houses away at 198 Lumber Street, was a center for Underground Railroad and abolitionist activity in Albany.

According to the Bicentennial History of Albany, Dr. Elkins served as a medical examiner attached to the 54th Massachusetts regiment during the Civil War. He also traveled to Liberia, bringing home a collection of minerals, shells, and other artifacts. The location of those relics is now, unfortunately, unknown.

 

An inventor as well as a doctor, Elkins patented a special refrigerator for the cold storage of corpses, as well as a large piece of furniture which combined a toilet or commode with a washstand, bureau, mirror, chair, bookshelf, and table. In a similar vein, he also patented a combined quilting frame, ironing table, and dining table. Elkins received a “certificate of highest merit” from the New York Agricultural Society for the refrigerator and a “certificate of merit” for the combination table. He was also one of only two African-Americans to be pictured in Albany’s Centennial Historic Album and served as vice-president of the Albany Literary Association.

Dr. Thomas Elkins died in 1900 and his funeral, presided over by the canon of the Cathedral of All Saints, was attended by a large number of prominent local citizens. (Lot 97, Section 100)

Lost At Sea

In a lot just a few feet from the grave of Dr. Elkins, a tall, simple marble shaft plot bears the name Jacob F. Benjamin, the phrase “LOST AT SEA,” and a date — December 25, 1853. It was on that Christmas when the San Francisco, a vessel from the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, encountered a terrible gale and foundered near Charleston. The ship had left New York and was bound for Panama. Aboard were both soldiers (the ship was transporting the Third Regiment of the United States Artillery) and civilian passengers, including women and children. The decks were swept with wind and water, the smokestacks toppled, the boats lost. Reports of the total casualties varied, but some contemporary newspapers reported about 300 casualties and 150 saved.

Among those reported dead that night was a man simply identified as “The barber, colored, washed overboard.” It was Jacob F. Benjamin who, that same year, had been listed in the Albany city directory as a barber residing at 111 Knox Street. His body was not recovered, but his name was carved on the marble shaft in a family plot deeded to his wife, Abigail. At the time of his death, they had five children who ranged in age from an infant (his father’s namesake) to 11 years old. Jacob was thirty-five when he was lost to the waves. His daughter, Catherine, would marry the younger Adam Blake. (Lot 94, Section 100)

A Civil War Veteran Honored

The Storming of Ft Wagner lithograph by Kurz and Allison 1890
A lithograph of the 54th storming Fort Wagner. / via Wikipedia

Among over 900 Civil War soldiers buried at Albany Rural are several men who served in the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the unit depicted in the 1989 film Glory. One of them was William A. Francis, whose grave remained unmarked for 112 years.

There are very few details of Francis’ life, though records show he was an Albany waiter, about 30 years old, married, and the father of a two-year old son when he joined the 54th. He would take part in all of the unit’s battles, including the bloody 1863 clash at Fort Wagner in South Carolina. He became the 54th second highest ranking black member, second to Master Sergeant Lewis Douglass (son of abolitionist Frederick Douglass).

William Francis returned to Albany and again took work as a waiter. He died on December 2, 1897. In 2009, thanks to the efforts of local historian Mark Bodnar, funds were raised by Civil War re-enactors to mark Francis’ burial place with a military headstone. (Single Grave, #, Tier 4, Section 111).

Others

Albany Rural marker Dick Slave of John Pruyn

Other African-American residents of Albany buried at the Albany Rural Cemetery include Stephen and Harriet Myers, leaders of Albany’s Underground Railroad community (Lot 2, Section 98), Arabella Chapman Miller and family, subjects of a University of Michigan research project, (Lot 448, Section 104), William H. Topp, a tailor active with the Vigilance Committee ,  the Temperance Cause and staunch advocate for women’s suffrage in the mid 1800s (Lot 25, Section 11), and Dick, whose grave marker describes him as a slave of the well-known merchant John F. Pruyn (Lot 14, Section 49).

A Presidential Postscript

In 1853, Elizabeth Jennings Graham, an African-American teacher and church organist, was refused a seat on a lower Manhattan omnibus operated by the Third Avenue Railroad Company. When she refused to get off the horse-drawn streetcar the conductor had her removed by the police. Graham filed suit against the company which owned the streetcar. The jury found in her favor, awarded her damages, and the Third Avenue Railroad Company immediately desegregated its streetcars. Her lead attorney was future President Chester A. Arthur.

Written by Paula Lemire (significant Friend of Albany History) and appeared in Allover Albany.com  in February 2016.