Albany’s City Halls

Hard to imagine that in its long almost 400 year history Albany has had only 4 city hall buildings.

First Stadt Huys

We don’t know the exact date the first city hall was erected, but it was probably during the time when the city was still Beverwyck and part of the Dutch colony before 1664. It was at the corner of Court St. (Broadway and Hudson). It was known as the Stadt Huys (or Haus). It was a substantial, but small building with several large rooms on a first floor and a jail in the basement. (Sadly there are no images.) Technically it wasn’t a city hall until the Royal Governor made Albany the first chartered city in the U.S. in that very building in 1686.

Second Stadt Huys

In 1741 the city fathers thought it was time for new digs and a new building was constructed on the same location, surrounded by greenery and trees. It was much larger 3 story building of brick, but simple and plain. It had a steep roof and a belfrey. It too had a jail. It was on the steps of this building that the Declaration of Independence was first read to the city in July, 1776 and where Ben Franklin first proposed the Albany Plan of Union – a confederation of the British colonies in 1754, 20 years before the Continental Congress was formed.

Eagle St. City Hall

By the early 1800s, after the Revolutionary War, the city was expanding. The old Stadt House had seen better days. It was the home of the Albany Common Council, the local and NYS courts, AND the NYS Legislature after Albany became the capital. It was time for a new city hall (and a state capitol building). These were both constructed around the new public square at State and Eagle Streets. The new city hall was erected in 1829,

Enter renowned architect and Albany government official Philip Hooker. He designed both the new Capitol in the back of the public square and Albany’s City Hall on Eagle St. and Maiden Lane, across the street from the Capitol and the square. It was a large neo-classical building with pillars and a dome. There are no interior photos, but it was probably a simple yet dramatic style, with federal decoration and large elegant rooms (based on those few Hooker buildings that survive today).

The building also doubled as the Federal Courthouse. It was in this building in 1873 that Susan B. Anthony was indicted by a Grand Jury composed solely of men for voting in a federal Congressional election in Rochester in 1872. Alas, the Hooker City Hall was destroyed by fire in 1880.

Current City Hall

The current City Hall open in 1883. It was designed by Henry Hobson Richardson, one the most well-known architects of the day. His style is known as “Richardson Romanesque”. His building exteriors are solid and large, and make a statement, although the interiors are surprising open and light. (He also collaborated on the design of the existing NYS Capitol Building). Attached to City Hall by a bridge was the jail on Maiden Lane. (By 1883 the city jail on the corner of Howard and Eagle Streets had become Albany Hospital.) It appears the jail was demolished in the early 1900s.

The carillon was added in 1927 through subscriptions of the citizens of the city. It’s housed in a tiny room, up a set of rickety winding steps.

City Hall and jail from Maiden Lane

Julie O’Connor

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Slavery in Old Albany

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

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Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

A Brief History of Albany’s Early Jewish Congregations

Jews were among the earliest settlers in Albany. They were Dutch citizens, arriving from the far flung territories in the Western Hemisphere established by the Dutch West Indies Company. By the early 19th century the Jewish community was well established in Albany, and the city became a center for Jewish immigration into America.

The post below is by Christopher White, excerpted from his blog, “Finding Your Past: Genealogical Gleanings with the Albany Grave Digger” https://findingyourpast.blogspot.com

Western European Sephardic Jews were attracted to Albany from its earliest days because in the seventeenth century Albany was the leading exporter of skins and furs to Europe. The first Jews appeared in Fort Orange and Beverwyck in 1654. They came to travel and trade in the colony. At first they were denied permission by the Director General of the colony, Pieter Stuyvesant. Only citizens of the village were allowed to trade, and only members of the Dutch Reformed could become citizens. The following year Jews were allowed to trade outside of the borders of New Amsterdam. Among the first Jews to arrive in Fort Orange was Asser Levy. By 1660 he had purchased several homes and became a trader on a substantial scale.[1] At this time there were 23 Jews residing in Fort Orange. The Jews were now allowed to practice their religion within their own homes, but they were not allowed to build houses of worship. The same provisions also applied to the Lutherans. However, it was not until the 1820s that the Jewish population was large enough to build a synagogue.[2]

The Jewish population in Albany came predominantly from the Germanic state of Bayern (Bavaria), where anti-Jewish restrictions were rigidly enforced. These Jewish immigrants began to heavily settle in the city in the 1830s and 1840s. The German Jews adhered to their native tongue and even attempted to perpetuate it among their children. They kept synagogue records in German, communicated in German, and engaged Rabbis who delivered addresses in German. The use of German was respectable because it was the language of the majority in the German enclave.[3] As of 1886 there were approximately three thousand Jews in the city, most of them German.[4] But as Russian Jews, numbering over two thousand, migrated to the city between 1880 and 1900, anti-Semitism took hold of Albany’s elite. Discrimination was directed both to the newcomers and to the older, more established upper-class German Jews.[5] This occurred even though the German Jews were fully absorbed in the German community. Many Western European Jews were charter members of various German societies of the city, such as Doctor Joseph Lewi, who helped establish the Deutsche Literatur Gesellschaft, or German Literary Society. Jewish merchant Julius Laventall hosted numerous Jewish organizations in the upstairs rooms at his clothing shop, also known as Laventall’s Building. Another prominent Albany Jew was Myer Nussbaum, a lawyer who later became a New York State Senator.

Albany’s first Jewish congregation was the moderate orthodox sect, Beth El, meaning “The House of God.” The flock was organized in 1822 and later incorporated on March 25, 1838. Beth El was the city’s first German language congregation. On December 16, 1839, the congregation’s first meeting place, 66 Bassett Street, was purchased from Abel Fretch for $1,500. After the idea of building a new house of worship was not fulfilled, 76 Herkimer Street was purchased for $2150 from the Hibernian Society on September 2, 1842. In 1846 the congregation opened a school, the Jewish Academy of Albany, at 77 Ferry Street, and by 1849 the school had one hundred students. School tuition cost $9.00 per year. The school’s pupils were instructed in German, Hebrew, and English.[6]

On July 14, 1865, a larger edifice situated on the corner of South Ferry and Franklin Streets was purchased for $4,000 from the South Ferry Street Methodist Episcopal Church and used as a synagogue. It was dedicated on January 20, 1865, with great pomp. There was a parade through the streets of Albany with members of the congregation carrying the Scrolls of the Law.[7] To bury the congregations’ dead, two acres of land were purchased in Bethlehem near the Abbey Hotel for use as a cemetery. On April 13, 1839, the land was bought for $15.[8] Organizations associated with Beth El were the Bethel Society, formed in 1838 as a mutual aid society, the Hebrew Benevolent Society, established on September 20, 1855, providing assistance for families in need and distress; and the Chevra, organized in 1843, was another benevolent group that provided sick and death benefits for its members.

The second Jewish congregation in Albany was Beth El Jacob. It came into existence after eight families broke away from Beth El due to internal conflicts regarding orthodoxy. It was the city’s only orthodox sect and was incorporated on February 22, 1841. The first meeting place was located at 8 Rose Street and was dedicated on May 25, 1841. On December 1, 1847, the corner stone for a new synagogue was laid. The new house of worship was located at 28 Fulton Street, between Lydius, now Madison Avenue and Van Zandt Streets and consecrated on April 28, 1848.[9] In 1860 it was proposed by the congregation that prayers be offered in German, instead of Hebrew.[10] By 1900 the congregation was composed mainly of newly arrived Russian and Polish Jewish immigrants. The influx of these Eastern European nationalities helped the congregation’s lagging German membership. On August 5, 1974, Beth El Jacob merged with another orthodox congregation, B’nai Abraham, or the Sons of Abraham, which was founded in June 1882 at 69 South Pearl Street.

Anshe Emeth, signifying “People of Truth,” became Albany’s third Jewish congregation when forty-six members from Beth El left to form a new moderate reformed congregation on October 5, 1850. The society was formally incorporated as a house of worship six days later. At the time, Anshe Emeth was the fourth reformed Jewish congregation in the United States. The flock first worshipped in the German language in an abandoned razor strap factory, on the corner of Lydius and South Pearl Streets. Afterwards, the congregation worshiped in a building on Green Street until the former Baptist church at 155-159 South Pearl Street was purchased and was transformed into a synagogue. It was officially dedicated on October 3, 1851, with an elaborate ceremony.[11] Worship services consisted of prayers in Hebrew, the reading of the law, also in Hebrew; while music, and sermons were conducted in either English or German.[12]

On August 27, 1851, land was purchased in Watervliet from George E. Hartman for use as a cemetery, and on April 3, 1862, the cemetery opened.[13] Two more acres were later bought in 1878 to increase the size of the burial grounds. Anshe Emeth opened a school in 1852. Its curriculum provided both religious and secular instruction, including the study of German until the school closed in 1905.[14] During the mid 1880s the congregation included about 150 families.[15]

In December 1885, after years of discussion, 1200 worshippers from the congregations of Anshe Emeth and Beth El merged to form a new Reformed congregation, Beth Emeth. The board decided that English should be used during board meetings and in the keeping of records. By 1889 services in German and English alternated each week, to the dismay of most of the congregation, who wanted to continue services strictly in German. Land for a synagogue was purchased on the corner of Lancaster and Swan Streets for $19,000 in 1887. The synagogue was erected at a cost of $145,000. On May 24, 1889, the new house of worship was consecrated.

As of 1897 the congregation numbered approximately 1,200 members. In 1894 a school was created where bilingual instruction in Hebrew and German was taught, along with Bible study, catechism, and Jewish history. By 1905 the school existed only as a Sunday school. Regrettably as time passed, Jewish children who understood German refused to use it in public or among their friends; second and third generation German Jews also abandoned the language of their ancestors.[16] Societies within the Beth Emeth congregation included the Hebrew Benevolent Society, the Ladies Sewing Society, and the Jewish Home Society. All three societies aided the poor and the old of the Jewish community. Another group, the Young People’s Society promoted literature.[17] Today, the synagogue is an African-American church, the Wilborn Temple on Jay St.

German Jews were similar to German Gentiles. They also created non-religious organizations. Fourteen German Jews established the Deutsche Literatur Gesellschaft, or German Literary Society, in 1849. The society stressed intellectual development, community activity, and the maintenance of the German language, as well as extending assistance to newly arriving German immigrants.[18] In 1876 the society met at Laventall’s Building, located at the corner of South Pearl Street and Hudson Avenue. The group included a theater and music committee that held debates, gave recitations and lectures, intellectual presentations, and dramatic productions, including Schiller’s “Räuber.” Schiller Halle, established by Wilhelm Schindler and located on the corner of Herkimer and Franklin Streets, was the host for these events. The literary society became the best outlet for social and cultural needs of Albany’s German Jews.[19]

Another Jewish literary group was the Concordia Literary Association. The association was in existence only a short time, approximately from 1877 to 1880. Yet another Jewish literary group, the Adelphi Literary Association, was founded on January 26, 1873, and incorporated on February 11, 1881, as the Adelphi Club. The original purpose of the association was for mutual enlightenment and instruction in science and literature, by the aid of social intercourse, debates, readings, orations, and the maintenance of a library.[20] The first meeting place was located on South Pearl Street, between Division Street and Hudson Avenue. In 1876 the club moved to 83 Green Street, formerly Turn Halle. The new site soon became known as Adelphia Hall. In 1893 Adelphia Hall moved and was located at 82 South Pearl Street. By 1914 Adelphi Club ceased its intellectual pursuits and purchased land in suburban Voorheesville, New York and transformed itself into the Colonie Country Club.

Other Jewish organizations included the Society for Brotherly Love, which was established on March 19, 1843. The society provided assistance and burial facilities for deceased members. Meanwhile, Jews were not admitted into Freemasonry. They, therefore, founded the International Order of B’nai B’rith, meaning “Brotherhood of the Covenant,” hereafter IOBB. Jews from New York City formed the IOBB in 1843 as a fraternal, charitable, and benevolent Jewish association. In Albany the Shiloh Lodge, Number 17, IOBB was organized on December 11, 1853, and met in Laventall’s Building, located on the corner of South Pearl Street and Hudson Avenue. The Shiloh Lodge was involved in the social, cultural, and philanthropic activities of the Jewish community. As Jewish scholar Hyman B. Grinstein put it, “Affiliation with a B’nai Brith lodge was a great social distinction among the German Jews in the 1840s and 1850s.”[21] Therefore, IOBB lodges were mainly composed of older German-speaking Jews. The Shiloh lodge, with sixty-seven members, was an insurance society that issued payouts of $500, $750, and $1,000 to its members depending on the amount of contributions made to the lodge by its members and also depending upon the age of the member at entrance into the lodge.[22] The lodge ceased to exist after 1900 because of the numerical decline of German speakers in the Jewish community. But two organizations that catered to the younger Jewish population who identified with both American ideals and Jewish affairs included the Young Men’s Association, henceforth YMA and the Progress Club. Both groups came into existence during the 1860s and were concerned with cultural and social activities, such as debates, readings, recitations, and concerts. The YMA was located in the Martin Opera House on South Pearl Street in 1876, and its library consisted of over seven thousand volumes. Meanwhile, the city of Buffalo, New York, also had a strictly German YMA, which was incorporated, earlier than Albany’s, on May 12, 1846. Its library compiled 1,800 volumes as of 1855.[23]

Another Jewish society was the Brith Academy. It opened in November 1866 at 67 Division Street, but closed on May 1, 1869, due to a lack of financial support. The academy had 150 students and four teachers who taught English, German, Hebrew and secular studies.[24] An additional Jewish organization was the Gideon Lodge, No. 140 of the IOBB. This organization was founded on March 19, 1870, for the purpose of furthering Jewish social and cultural activities. They also met at Laventall’s Building. An unofficial female auxiliary group of B’nai Brith was the Unabhängiger Orden Treur Schwestern, or the Independent Order of True Sisters.[26] The Abigail Lodge formed under the Order of True Sisters on August 4, 1857. Later, the Arnon Lodge, Number 64, of the men’s Independent Order of the Free Sons of Israel was founded on April 5, 1874.

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[1] Silver, “The Jews in Albany, N. Y. (1655-1914),” YIVO Annual of Jewish Social Science 9: 216. Morris O. A. Gerber, Pictorial History of Albany’s Jewish Community (Albany: n. p., 1986), pp. 13-14.
[2] Rabbi Donald P. Cashman, “Albany’s Synagogues: Split-Off and Merger,” in Historic Albany: Its Churches and Synagogues, Anne Roberts and Marcia Cockrell, eds., (Albany: Library Communications Services, 1986), p. 118.
[3] Hyman B. Grinstein, The Rise of the Jewish Community of New York, 1654-1860 (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1945), pp. 207-210.
[4] Howell and Tenney, eds., History of the County of Albany, N. Y., p. 763.
[5] Timothy J. Malloy, “Elite Gentlemen’s Clubs in Albany, New York, 1866-1920” (Masters thesis, University of New York at Albany, 1996), pp. 54-58.
[6] Rubinger, “Albany Jewry of the Nineteenth Century,” pp. 83-89. Silver, “The Jews in Albany, N. Y. (1655-1914),” YIVO Annual of Jewish Social Science 9: 227.
[7] Silver, “The Jews in Albany, N. Y. (1655-1914),” YIVO Annual of Jewish Social Science 9: 236.
[8] Rubinger, “Albany Jewry of the Nineteenth Century,” pp. 53-57.
[9] Ibid., pp. 57-60. Reynolds, Albany Chronicles, pp. 577, 593. Cashman, “Albany’s Synagogues: Split-Off and Merger,” in Historic Albany: Its Churches and Synagogues, Anne Roberts and Marcia Cockrell, eds., p. 119. Silver, “The Jews in Albany, N. Y. (1655-1914),” YIVO Annual of Jewish Social Science 9: 237-240.
[10] Rubinger, “Albany Jewry of the Nineteenth Century,” pp. 268-269.
[11] Ibid., pp. 156-168. Reynolds, Albany Chronicles: A History of the City Arranged Chronologically, p. 613. Silver, “The Jews in Albany, N. Y. (1655-1914),” YIVO Annual of Jewish Social Science 9: 235.
[12] Phelps, comp., The Albany Hand-Book: A Strangers’ Guide and Residents’ Manual, pp. 97-98. Howell and Tenney, eds., History of the County of Albany, N. Y., From 1609-1886, p. 763.
[13] Reynolds, Albany Chronicles: A History of the City Arranged Chronologically, p. 644. Howell and Tenney, eds., History of the County of Albany, N. Y., From 1609-1886, p. 676.
[14] Rubinger, Albany Jewry of the Nineteenth Century: Historic Roots and Communal Evolution, p. 214.
[15] Howell and Tenney, eds., History of the County of Albany, N. Y., From 1609-1886, p. 763.
[16] Grinstein, The Rise of the Jewish Community of New York, 1654-1860, p. 210.
[17] n. a., Geschichte der Deutschen in Albany und Troy, p.57.
[18] Conners, “Their Own Kind,” p. 103. Rubinger, “Albany Jewry of the Nineteenth Century,” pp. 152-153. Reimer, “Ethnicity in Albany, N. Y., 1888-1908,” p. 47. Silver, “The Jews in Albany, N. Y. (1655-1914),” YIVO Annual of Jewish Social Science 9: 230.
[19] n. a., Geschichte der Deutschen in Albany und Troy, pp. 71-75.
[20] Rubinger, “Albany Jewry of the Nineteenth Century,” p. 287. Reynolds, Albany Chronicles, p. 651. Phelps, comp., The Albany Hand-Book, pp. 4-5.
[21] Grinstein, The Rise of the Jewish Community of New York, 1654-1860, p. 204.
[22] n. a., Geschichte der Deutschen in Albany und Troy, p. 217.
[23] French, comp., Gazetteer of the State of New York, p. 147.
[24] n. a., Geschichte der Deutschen in Albany und Troy, p. 131.
[25] Grinstein, The Rise of the Jewish Community of New York, 1654-1860, p. 154.

St. Nicholas Day in Colonial Albany

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Julie O’Connor

The Origin of the Baker’s Dozen – A Beverwyck Christmas Fable

The first published version of this fable appeared in 1836, written by James Paulding, a close friend of Washington Irving*, in his “Book of St. Nicholas”. Paulding was born in Nine Partners (Pine Plains) in Duchess County and it is quite likely this fable had been passed on through oral tradition.

In Paulding’s story the baker lives in New Amsterdam – but over the years a number of versions surfaced, most based in Beverwyck (the name for Albany in the mid part of the 1600s).

This version appeared in the “Times Union” in 1940, written by Edgar Van Olinda, who wrote the paper’s old Albany history columns in the mid-20th century.

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In 1655 on Christmas Eve, so the rumor has it, the phrase, “Baker’s Dozen” made its first appearance in the vocabulary of Beverwyck among the tradesmen.

There was a Beverwyck baker who kept a little shop just off Jonker St. (State St.) .The baker’s name was Volkert Jan Pietersen Van Amsterdam, called for brevity Baas.

The gentleman in question had established quite a reputation for New Year’s cookies, which he sold up and down the Hudson River in settlements that could boast one Dutch family. Now Baas had been working hard all day and no one could begrudge him a little nip of rum to speed up production. And next week started a New Year and he probably has made some good resolutions. We mention this little deviation from the straight line not in the spirt of criticism, but to prove he was wide awake and that the following curious incident really happened.

As business dwindled down almost to the vanishing point and he was about to close up his shop, there was a knock on the door, and going to see what was abroad at that unseemly time of night, he beheld an ugly old woman who demanded a dozen New Year’s cookies; specifying each must be in the effigy of good St. Nicholas. Carefully counting out 12 of the delicacies and placing them in a bag, he was astounded when she demanded an extra one.

“I want a dozen,” was her insistent demand. Baas was just as insistent as she.

“I gave you a dozen” said Bass. “I counted them very carefully – 12 of my finest cookies.”

“One more cookie”, said the old woman “One more than 12 makes a dozen.”

The argument threatened to go on until daybreak, with neither party to the purchase willing to give ground. Finally his temper riled beyond the point of any verbal settlement on the question he grabbed her by the shoulders (however, not before he had received copper coins in payment) and pushed her out into the night.

“You can go to the devil for another cookie”, he shouted.

“You won’t get another” and shut the door in her face.

When he related the story to his wife, the kindly spirit suggested that as it was on the eve of Christmas, he might have made an exception, but by then it was too late to relent. The old woman had vanished into the night.

From that time on the business began to fall off and sundry mysterious things began to happen to his products. The dough raised to the ceiling and then fell flat as a pancake. Even the baker’s wife became afflicted with deafness. On three subsequent occasions the old woman appeared at the shop and demanded her 13th cookie.

Three times she was refused, and in desperation he exclaimed,

“Holy St. Nicholas, what shall I do?”

At that instant the venerable St. Nicholas entered the shop and asked what is was that perplexed old man and complimenting him the excellence of his likeness in the cakes he said:

“The trouble with you is that you have not absorbed the Christmas spirit. Favor the old woman. Give her what she demands and your troubles will vanish into thin air.”
And so saying he disappeared in a cloud of smoke.

At that instant there appeared the old lady, again demanding her extra cookie, and Baas was all thumbs getting the extra cookie into her bag, which he handed her and added a cheery “Merry Christmas”.

“The spell is broken,” said the witch, for that is what she was. “Now swear to me on St. Nicholas that here in Beverwyck and all the Van Rensselaer Patroonship, 13 will make a baker’s dozen.

Baas took the oath, and that is why today in every good bakery, the baker hands you an extra sample of her wares – or does she?

*Paulding and Irving were founding members of The Saint Nicholas Society of the City of New York, established to commemorate the history and heritage of New York. Notably, the first meeting was a dinner held in 1835, the year before Paulding published this story. To the members of the Society, New York’s Dutch heritage was in danger of being lost and its preservation was one of the goals of the Society.

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National Dutch-American Day Albany

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November 16, is  National Dutch-American Heritage Day when we celebrate our Dutch roots. Without the Dutch there would probably be no Albany.

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We were discovered in 1609 by Henry Hudson, exploring for the Dutch East India Co. By 1624 there was a settlement surrounding Fort Orange.

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The village came to be known as Beverwyck (basically Beaverville). In 1664 the English came into possession of the entire New Netherlands colony and Beverwyck became Albany, but the streets of Albany retained their Dutch names for many years.

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When Martin Van Buren was elected our 8th president in 1837 his primary language was Dutch, although he’d been born in 1782, after the American Revolution. It was common in the early 1800s for there to be “English” schools in Albany where kids from Dutch speaking families could learn English. Into the 1880s there were still members of old Albany Dutch families who spoke Dutch at home (old habits die hard).

We are surrounded by our Dutch heritage in our place names, from Guilderland, to the Krumkill and Normanskill Creeks, to Feura Bush and Watervliet.

Few vestiges of our original Dutch architecture exist – the oldest is the Van Ostrand- Radcliffe house at 48 Hudson Ave. that dates back to the 1720s. (Johannes Van Ostrand came to Albany from a Dutch family outside Kingston and Johannes Radcliffe was the grandson of one of the original Dutch settler families and a British soldier who arrived to garrison the Fort.) Another is the Quackenbush House on Broadway, built in the 1730s – currently home of the Old English Pub. The Dutch style of building remained popular long Dutch officials left the Colony. Fort Crailo across the river was built in the Dutch style in 1707. There’s also the Ariaanje Coeymans House, Coeymans, built in the Dutch style circa 1700, the Peter Winne house in Bethlehem, the Yates House in Schenectady and the Van Loon house in Athens – all examples of original Dutch buildings.

We pay homage to our history through our more current architecture. – the fire House on Delaware Ave and the old AFD fire signal building are the best known examples of our Dutch heritage, although built in the 20th century.

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Today, Albany pays tribute to its Dutch Heritage during the Tulip Festival every May when the streets are scrubbed in the old Dutch manner and we crown the Queen of the Dutch flowers.

 

While the official presence of the Dutch in America ended over 300 years ago, they brought us food, traditions and words we use in everyday life. Santa Claus was originally the Dutch Sinterklaus (a/k/a St. Nicholas). We eat yummy Dutch foods: waffles, donuts and cookies, and use Dutch ovens to cook. Where would we be without the words: aardvark, bazooka, brandy, caboose, coleslaw, cruller, dollar. hooky, iceberg, pickle and smuggle? And there’s “Dutch courage” (alcohol aided bravery), a stern “Dutch Uncle” and “Going Dutch” (homage to legendery Dutch parsimony).

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You might be surprised how strong and pervasive Dutch roots are in America and how many people have Dutch ancestors despite the relatively few original Dutch settlers. Famous Americans with Dutch roots include FDR, Tiger Woods, Dick Van Dyke, Marlon Brando, Robert DiNiro, Christine Aguilera, Anderson Cooper, Walter Cronkite, Henry Fonda, Humphrey Bogart, Diane Keaton,Jane Fonda, Taylor Swift , the Kardashians and the Boss.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Women of Colonial Albany

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These short biographies come from calendar prepared by Stefan Bielinski of the Colonial Albany Project for Albany’s 1986 Tricentennial.  ( You should take a look at his Colonial Albany Social History Project )

Most of the women discussed here were the matriarchs of our city:

Alida Schuyler Van Rensselaer Livingston
Anna De Ridder Yates
Anna Von Rotmers Bradt
Anna Cuyler Van Schaick
Cathaline Schuyler Cuyler
Elizabeth Staats Wendell Schuyler
Elsie Wendell Schuyler
Engeltie Wendell Lansing
Magdelena Douw Lansing
Maria – a slave
Sara Gansevoort
Rachel Lambert Van Valkenburgh Radcliff

I have to admit I’m partial to Rachel Van Valkenburgh Radcliff, one of my 9th great grandmothers; a tough old bird and a workhorse.

Talk about Albany History – Rachel was the grandmother of Johannes Radcliff in – who was the second owner of the historic Van Ostrand- Radcliff House at 48 Hudson Ave. , the oldest structure Albany. And a little known fact, she was also a great grandmother (through her daughter Elizabeth) of James Eights who painted all those wonderful watercolors of Albany in the early 1800s. alioda.jpg

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When Beverwyck Became Albany

21368835_1420857011295890_3185812859761615391_oOn  September 8, 1664 the Dutch peacefully surrender New Netherlands to the English.

On September 10, the new British Governor Nicholls sent troops up the Hudson to Beverwyck to demand the peaceful surrender of the “Fort Aurania”, aurania being the Latin name for “orange” that the English used when referring to Fort Orange.

It was not until September 24, 1664 that vice-director of New Netherland Dutch West India Co., Johannes de Montagne, surrendered the fort to the English, and Colonel George Cartwright took command. On the 25th, Captain John Manning was given control of the fort. Beverwyck was re-named Albany and the fort became Fort Albany;

New York, the state and city, were named after James I, Duke of York, brother of King Charles II, to whom Charles had awarded the land. James also held the title Duke of Albany, a Scottish peerage. (Albany is a corruption of Albia or Alba, an ancient Scots Gaelic name for part of Scotland.)