Seeing the Elephant – Old Bet in Early 1800s Albany

It’s Albany in 1814 and an elephant comes to town!

You’ve never seen a picture of an elephant.. you may only have read a description of an elephant, but probably not. You may never even have heard of an elephant!.

But there’s a picture of an elephant in the “Albany Argus”! WOW!

She looks nothing like anything you’ve ever seen before. .And if you can spare the money (25 cents and ½ price for kids), you can see her.

The elephant was called “Old Bet”. Bet is said to have been the 2nd African elephant brought to America*. Legend has it that a Mr. Bailey paid $1,000 for her in New York City around 1808. Bailey was a farmer from Westchester County and there is speculation whether he bought Bet for use on the farm. But soon he realized the money he could make by touring the Northeast with Bet.

We know from newspaper accounts that Bet generally spent at least part of the winter in Albany from 1813 to 1815. During her Albany stays Bet and Bailey (or his partners.. because by now he was a mogul, and had sold shares in Bet) lived at Wetmore’s Inn at the corner of Beaver and Green Streets.**

Imagine the how the neighborhood children felt about Bet. Cats, dogs, chickens are ok pets, but an elephant almost in your backyard? Totally cool. We can imagine the kids wanting to brush Bet and feed her hay and straw.. and potatoes (supposedly Bet had a thing for potatoes). And begging to climb up on her. We’re guessing Bet and Bailey made lots of friends during their winters in Albany. And a lot of money, since by now Albany was a growing.. a northeast hub .. only New York and Boston were larger. Who wouldn’t pass through Albany without looking at the elephant?

2And then spring would come and Bailey would set out on tour with Bet. (Legend has it they traveled at night, so no one would get a free peek.) But in 1816 Bet met a sad end. While she was traveling in Maine, Bet was shot and killed by a farmer (said to have been outraged that Bailey was charging money to see the Bet.) There’s a marker in Alfred, ME where Bet was killed.***

Bailey carried on with other business ventures, but he must have missed Old Bet a lot. In 1825 he opened The Elephant Hotel, with a huge statue of Old Bet. Today she’s still there and the hotel is now the town hall of Somers, NY (east of Peekskill).

*The first elephant in America was brought from India by a Salem Mass sea captain named Crowninshield in the mid-1790s. He sold it, and then for a while the trail of the elephant grows cold, until it appears in NYC in 1796. After that it appears to have traveled throughout the Northeast (perhaps Albany, we don’t know). We do know that President George Washington saw the Crowninshield elephant in Philadelphia the same year.

** At about the same time Old Bet was in Albany you could also see the “Royal Tiger of Asia” and an African ape at the corner of State and Pearl. If you waited until 8pm you could see the tiger fed 10 lbs. of meat. (Bailey is said to have been ½ owner of the tiger.)

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*** There are several legends about the location where Bet met her demise.. but since the town in Maine went to the trouble of placing a marker in honor of Bet, we’re going with that one.

Copyright 2021  Julie O’Connor

Aaron Burr Slept Here

a 14725522_1116882888359972_4854986053856491345_nThere is a family plot at the Albany Rural Cemetery perched somewhat precariously on the Middle Ridge hill just above the Ozia Hall monument and not too far from the Samuel Schuyler lot. From the path below, it appears to be just a row of granite urns facing a tall, but otherwise unassuming marble shaft. From the hill above, though, a set of old flat gravestones can be seen laid between the granite urns and the marble shaft. The shaft reads simply “The Family of The Souldens.” One of the headstones has a very simply carved hand with its index finger pointing toward heaven. Another stone is a very pleasant discovery; a plump, winged cherub’s head framed by a lozenge and flanked by daisy finials.

Lot 22, Section 61 was deeded to an Englishman named William Soulden who was interred there in 1851, just seven years after the Cemetery opened. Several of the gravestones in the lot predate the Cemetery and were likely moved here from the State Street Burying Grounds by Soulden.
Those interred in this lot include:
Sarah A. Smith, died September 7, 1825, age 88
Catherine Eliza Soulden, died February 24, 1831, age 9
William M. Soulden, died October 23, 1835, age 19
Catherine Townsend, died May 18, 1849, age 70
Ann M. Soulden, died August 9, 1849, age 32
Louisa B. Muir, died August 13, 1849, aged 32
William Soulden, died August 21, 1851, age 64
Ann M. Soulden, died November 16, 1860, age 80
The burial cards on file unfortunately provide no other details, a common occurrence with some of the older records or relocated graves.

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The family had a connection to one of Albany’s oldest and well-known buildings, a brickmansion built on Washington Street for Samuel Hill (who is buried in the Rural Cemetery’s Church Grounds section) and attributed to architect Philip Hooker (also buried in the Church Grounds). Documentation for the National Register of Historic Places gives some details:

“In 1820, the property was acquired by Sarah Smith, a widow, and her niece, Catherine Townsend and the Albany City Directories list Mrs. Sarah Smith as living in Hill’s Mansion House on Washington Street. In 1821, William Soulden is also listed as an occupant. The Townsend-Soulden family operated the large property as a boarding house, with Aaron Burr having been among their guests in 1824. When Sarah Smith died in 1825, she bequeathed the house to Catherine Townsend and William Soulden, in trust for another neice, Ann Maria, the wife of Soulden. William and Ann Soulden owned the property until 1827.”

As noted, Aaron Burr a resident at the Soulden House (also refered to as the Selden House) while looking after some legal matters two decades after shooting Alexander Hamilton in the infamous duel. Earlier in his career, Burr had a law office in Albany.e14567993_1116883601693234_3728131552865385156_n

The old Soulden House still stands on Washington Avenue and is quite familiar to many as the Fort Orange Club.

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Stay Calm and Bake Cake- Make America Cake Again! Election Cake.. an Albany Tradition?

Presidential elections in America have always been a big deal – the day for voting was merely the culmination of a “national crisis’. In 1831 Alexis de Toqueville traveled across America; upon his return to France he wrote: “A presidential election in the United States may be looked upon as a time of national crisis…” “Long before the date arrives, the election becomes everyone’s major, not to say sole, preoccupation. The ardor of the various factions intensifies, and whatever artificial passions the imagination can create in a happy and tranquil country make their presence felt. . . . As the election draws near, intrigues intensify, and agitation increases and spreads. The citizens divide into several camps, each behind its candidate. A fever grips the entire nation. The election becomes the daily grist of the public papers, the subject of private conversations, the aim of all activity.”

And when voting day arrived, it was time of celebration. Voting is a strenuous business and requires feasting and drinking. Time for cake! Election Cake!

An 1886 book says that, “Election cake was served in private homes and sold outside polling places, so it was frequently made in large batches” . “Mothers sat up all night to watch the batch of twelve or twenty loaves, or called their daughters long before cock-crowing to make investigations; nay, some were known to faint from fatigue while mixing the materials.”

The first recipe for Election Cake fittingly appears in the first uniquely American cookbook published in this country – “American Cookery” by Amelia Simmons in 1796 in Hartford, CT. The cookbook was a huge success. A follow-up edition was published the same year since “the call has been so great, and the sales [of American Cookery] so rapid that [the author] finds herself not only encouraged but under a necessity of publishing a second edition.”

This second edition, larger than the first with many additional recipes, was published by the Webster Brothers, George and Charles, of Albany. Their printing shop was on the northwest corner of State and Pearl – the “old Elm tree” corner. (A Citizen’s Bank is located there today.) It was the largest printing establishment in Albany.

The Albany edition appears to be the definitive edition because contains a statement that the person Amelia employed to prepare the first edition omitted essential recipes and included others without her consent. One of recipes omitted was Election Cake, featured prominently in the 2nd edition.

For years it was assumed that Amelia was from Connecticut (the cake recipe is often referred to as the “Hartford Election Cake”) and its genesis was the “muster cakes” prepared for the annual colonial militia musters in Connecticut. But some historians have concluded Amelia was probably from the Hudson Valley, very possibly Albany. Amelia uses the leavening agent pearl ash (a precursor to baking soda) in many of her recipes, which is derived from leaching large amounts of wood. In the late 1700s, the Albany area was a center for the production of potash, i.e., the unrefined source of the pearl ash. Additionally Amelia includes, for the first time in America, recipes for cookies. The word cookie is derived from the Dutch “koekje” – a staple in the Dutch baking. She also included the frst recipe for “slaw” koolsla – Dutch for cabbage salad. Albany Election Cake? Maybe. .

In the 1850’s ads for Election Cake can be found at Mrs. LaGrange’s Tea Cake Bakery on Steuben St. In a nod to Prohibition, the recipe for Election Cake in a 1920 Albany Evening Journal says to substitute lemon juice for booze.

Election Cake was an annual staple in this country until it fell out of fashion in the 1960s, but this year it has been re-discovered and is all the rage.Since we can make a good case for it as another Albany cake, we thought we would jump on the election year cake wagon.

ORIGINAL RECIPE FOR ELECTION CAKE – Amelia Simmons
Thirty quarts of flour
10 pound butter
14 pound sugar
12 pound raisins
3 doz eggs
one pint wine
one quart brandy
4 ounces cinnamon
4 ounces fine colander seed
3 ounces ground allspice
Wet flour with milk to the consistence of bread overnight, adding one quart yeast; the next morning work the butter and sugar together for half an hour, which will render the cake much lighter and whiter; when it has rise light work in every other ingredient except the plumbs, which work in when going into the oven.

Updated recipe for Election Day Cake from the Cooking Channel (We selected this one because others exclude the booze.. we like tradition.)
Two .25-ounce envelopes dry active yeast
1 cup warm, but not hot, water (about 105 degrees F)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing the pan
1 cup mixed dried fruit, such as golden raisins, cranberries and pitted prunes, chopped if large
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup American whiskey, bourbon or rye
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons milk
Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water in a medium bowl. Stir a few times and let stand to allow the yeast to dissolve and begin bubbling, 1 to 2 minutes. Sift 1 1/2 cups of the flour into the bowl and stir until mostly smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place for about 30 minutes. The mixture will expand, loosen in texture and will have large bubbles on the surface.

While that sits, generously butter a 12-cup Bundt pan and set aside. Place the dried fruit, 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar and all of the whiskey in a microwave-safe bowl. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Heat in the microwave until hot and bubbling, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir and set aside to cool. In a medium bowl, whisk the remaining 1 1/2 cups flour with the cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and salt.

Beat the butter with the remaining 1/2 cup brown and the granulated sugar with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until combined (the mixture may look slightly curdled at this stage), and then add 1 teaspoon of the vanilla. Beat in the yeast mixture and then reduce the speed to medium-low and gradually beat in the flour mixture. Add the plumped dried fruit with any remaining liquid and beat on medium speed until the fruit is well blended. The dough should be soft and elastic at this point.

Transfer the dough to the prepared Bundt pan and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until the dough fills the pan about three-quarters of the way, about 2 hours. When is the cake is almost done rising, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Bake the cake until golden brown and a skewer inserted comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool for 30 minutes in the pan on a wire rack. Loosen the sides with a small metal spatula and turn onto the wire rack to cool completely.

Before serving, stir the confectioners’ sugar with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and 1 tablespoon milk. Gradually add as much as needed of the second tablespoon of milk to make a thick glaze that will just gently run. Spoon over the top of the cake, allowing the glaze to slowly run down the outside and inside of the cake.

Note: Some of this material came from online article in the Hartford Courant by Leeanne Griffin (2016) and a blog post “Biography of America’s Earliest Cookbook Author – Amelia Simmons” by Barbara Wells Sarudy.(September 2014)

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

It’s National Cookie Day! Yay!

You can’t talk about cookies without the Dutch and New Netherlands and you can’t talk about New Netherlands without talking about Albany.

By now you all know that the word cookie comes from the Dutch “koekje” (little cakes). As the Dutch adopted English customs, recipes of some Albany women refers to “cakes” and “wafers”, the English terms for cookie-like things, but you also see use of the words koeks (cakes) and koejkes sometimes interchangeably. A famous example is the “dood koeks”.. dead cakes, which were actually cookies served at New Netherlands Dutch funerals.

In some Albany Dutch family recipe collections (Maria Schuyler Van Rensselaer- sister of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton) by the late 1700s koekjes becomes “coekjes”. The first time the word “cookie” appears in publication is in Amelia Simmons “American Cookery” (the definitive second edition was published in Albany in 1796) as cookies and cookery. But the term cookie doesn’t seem to catch on right away.. (I know.. so not possible.. but true). In the “Frugal Housewife” in 1829 (Lydia Maria Child) perhaps the most well-known of the early 19th century cookbooks, there is nary a cookie to be found. But there are little cakes and jumbles, and we know by the recipes that these are actually what we think of as cookies.

And then we have a cookie explosion after the Civil War.(I’m thinking those New York boys spread the word about the glory of the cookie all across the North and South.) By 1880, there is not a single cookbook that doesn’t include cookie recipes.

So to celebrate the fact that today is Cookie Day (which really SHOULD be an Albany holiday) we’ve included a collection of old Albany cookie recipes, with some updates by the brilliant New Netherlands food historian, Peter Rose, and some newer (100 year old ) recipes that you can make today without pounds of flour, hog lard, pearl ash and a dozen eggs.

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Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Christmas in Old Albany

This is the text of an article which appeared in the Albany Evening News, Friday, December 10, 1926.

CHRISTMAS IN OLD ALBANY
By Parker Lloyd-Smith

Mistress Angelica opened one eye. Undeniably it was morning, for she could make out quite clearly the design of the frost on the windowpanes. It looked like a rabbit, with funny pointed ears stretching up ever so high, almost in the very top pane. Tentatively she sniffed the air, half expecting the familiar spiced odor of a rabbit which has hung on the great spit in the oven. Tentatively she wiggled one toe from beneath the gay quilt and counter pane and tested the atmosphere of the room.

Not at all tentatively she withdrew the toe, entirely satisfied by her experiment that it was a very, very cold day indeed, cold even for the Albany countryside, where cold winters were to be expected. She decided to close the half open eye and wait for something to happen; perhaps wait until summer before getting up.

But, try as she might, she could sleep no more. The truant eye simply would not stay shut, but was forever taking sly peeps about the olive and yellow walls. It rested on a sketch lying on her young friend, Philip Hooker whom the good burghers of Albany said was a youth of promise. Philip had said the drawing was of a house for a bank which had impressed Mistress Angelica mightily, for she had never seen a house before it became a house, if you know what she meant.

Around the walls swept the irrepressible eye, half awake in spite of everything, although the other eye was firmly shut. It reached the door way, peered out into the dark hall, glanced up at the sprig of mistletoe –

With a sudden decision both eyes opened at once. The mistletoe, of course. How could she have forgotten? Last night she had hung it because it was the night for hanging mistletoe, and so, of course, today must be —

Christmas! Christmas of the year 1826 in the ancient city of Albany!

Before she had time to think she was at the window and was slaughtering the frost rabbit with quick pushes of her fingers. Now she could see the barnyard and just make out the turkeys and chickens in their coops. She wondered if the had all faced to the east at midnight as animals are supposed to do at midnight of Christmas eve. Or was there perhaps one wicked old turkey who didn’t believe in such things and who resolutely looked the other way.

With a little frown she put such a shocking thought out of her mind. Cousin Van Rensselaer would be horrified and Aunt Huybertie would look pained.

At any rate she was sure that when she went downstairs she would find the kitchen had been swept by the fairies and that there would be three more faggots on the hearth, one for each of the family, a special gift of the Christmas spirits.

She dressed quickly and went out. She would breakfast with Cousin Harriet, but first she would go into the town. Thrilled by the prospect, Mistress Angelica tripped lightly through the snow into Albany.

The town was awake and busy. There were still several hours before the good Dutch folk would be going to church and they all seemed to have had the same idea as Mistress Angelica. It almost looked as if every one of the 15,000 souls who inhabited Albany had joined the Christmas parade.

The throng of apprentices stalking around with their segars and their walking sticks, lords of the day, far above work and ripe for sport.

The little darkies strutted about showing rows of ivory and the yaller of their eyes, tokens of joy for the return of the annual jubilee.

Now and then through the crowds cluttered sulky, gig or tandem with the dandies sitting in style, in true Tom and Jerry fashion. What gay and rushing life to see in this slow Dutch town, thought Mistress Angelica as she returned a charming curtsey for a most majestic bow from a passing sulky. For sure, New York could furnish nothing better on this Christmas day.

In the odd corners of the streets where there were no paraders, hung all the good things in Albany’s calendar of eatables. Fat turkeys, pigs, geese, ducks, chickens, partridges and rabbits were as plenty as blackberries. The housewifely streak in Mistress Angelica responded in the abundance of delicacies. She thought of Christmas dinner.

This would come after church, which was the most formal event of the day. Not a Dutchman in Albany would miss church on Christmas, any more than he would have missed his St. Nicholas eve dinner three weeks before. The solid citizenry of Albany would be there en masse, in their most gorgeous clothes, suitable for the festive nature of the service.

For in all truth it was a festive service. The bare walls of the church were fairly hidden by garlands of evergreen, put up on Christmas eve by the devout. Mistress Angelica herself had helped with the decoration and had thought it great fun, although some had talked of the dissenters.

Not every one in Albany approved of this gay practice in the churches. There were those of strict Calvinistic persuasion who thought such designs smacked not a little of the “old one,” and who agreed with the anonymous person who called himself “Observator.” This earnest fellow had written to a newspaper in Schenectady, the”Cabinet,” only two weeks before and had called this evergreen hanging a “futile and improper practice.”

This has been recalled as Mistress Angelica helped put up the branches on which the snow was just melting, but she had answered by telling of what she had read in Albany’s newspaper, the “Microscope.” Just ten days before Christmas, the Microscope had probed into this business of Christmas customs and especially into the Puritan objections to church decoration.

“We have ever looked upon this custom as one of the most beautiful among all the ceremonies attached to the Christian worship,” declared the editor of the “Microscope.” “To deck the house of the Lord in wreaths of joyous flowers and ever-living germs of vegetation on the anniversary of the day that gave to the world a Saviour, a Redeemer and a God, must surely be deemed an act of piety.”

With these words, prettily uttered, did Mistress Angelica confound those who were quoting from the heretical Observation, and she went on, still remembering the Microscope:

“An evergreen is the emblem of the eternal spirit; and the coming of our Savior was certainly a matter of vital interest to all who believe in the existence of a soul. What then can be more reasonable, or what more proper, than that each return of the anniversary of that event should be marked by demonstrations of joy, and acts of good will to all mankind? Shall then the temples, erected expressly for the worship of God, be the first to be exempted?”

What could they answer, the doubters. One pictures them standing with rapt attention while the face of Mistress Angelica became grave.

“Would this modern Jeremiah have all our forms of worship dressed eternally in the sable garb of woe, and banish from our sanctuaries all those wreathed smiles and looks of honest cheerfulness which are the offspring and attendants of virtue? We trust not. At all events, if he is in favor of this gloomy, dark and dismal system, we trust he will find but few to second his unnatural, and we believe un-Christian wishes.”

Thus Mistress Angelica and the girls who were decking the church with garlands went at their work with new zeal, voicing their hearty disapproval of Observation and his gloomy ideas.

And so the church was verdant with evergreen when the good men and women of Albany filed in on Christmas morning, 1826, to hear the story of the wise men, and the Child of the manger.

If church was the formal occasion of the day, everyone knew that the afternoon would be devoted to another occasion, less serious but no less rigidly adhered to. Long before Christmas day, the odor of spices could have been remarked, coming from the witchens of the old Dutch houses. The “Microscope” had something to say about this, too:

“The practice also of passing round the merry can and partaking reasonably of the enlivening and invigorating glass, is truly appropriate, and can lead to no evil tendency among people of common sense. It warms the heart and arouses those feelings of generosity and humanity, which are so becoming to the human character, especially at this auspicious festival.”

Passing around the “merry can” was part of a custom which had existed ever since the oldest burgher could remember. This was the annual quaffing of copious libations of a mixture of spiced liquor, which the Dutch residents denominated “hot stuff.” This custom undoubtedly originated with the circulation of the Wassail bowl among the merry forefathers of this Albany of 1826.

The “Microscope” likes these antique manners:

“I like them well – the curious preciseness
“And all-pretending gravity of those
“That seek to banish hence these harmless sports
“Have thrust away much ancient honesty.”

So much for the day that Mistress Angelica lived with thrilling heart. The evening was to come, an evening spent before the Yule-Log which still burned brightly in the hearth. In the servants’ quarters hung the mistletoe still, and young men were plucking a berry from it each time they caught a lass beneath its greenery, until the last berry was gone and the sport ended.

And so Christmas drew to a close in the year 1826 and Mistress Angelica went back in her room to try to put all these things out of her mind. Which presently she did, and dreamed of young apprentices with segars and walking sticks, little darkies showing the yaller upon the windowpane.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Parker Lloyd-Smith was son of the late Supreme Court Justice Walter Lloyd-Smith, a graduate of Princeton and a Rhodes scholar at Oxford. He worked on the Knickerbocker Press and the Albany Evening News from 1926 to 1928. First assigned the obituaries, within six months he was covering City Hall, where he was well-liked, and a little later he was editor of the Sunday magazine section. A forward thinker and local activist, he was Secretary of the Albany Air Board, lobbying hard for what would become Albany Airport; he also spearheaded the effort to install a carillon atop Albany’s City Hall. He wrote the above story at age 24.

In 1928, Time Magazine offered Parker a job as Associate Editor, and in 1930, as Managing Editor, he helped Henry Luce launch Fortune Magazine.

parker

Late at night on September 16, 1931, Parker Lloyd-Smith jumped naked to his death from the 23rd floor of his fashionable apartment house at 12 E. 86th Street, just off Fifth Avenue, where he lived with his widowed mother. He left her this note:

“Mother Charm: The heat is frightful – but this is a farewell – if this is waiting – I will wait for you.

“My love and gratitude always. Signed Parker.”

He was 29.

Largely forgotten today, the classicist writer left behind a modest legacy of poems, magazine articles, and newspaper pieces.

This first appeared in Al Quaglieri’s blog Doc Circe Died for Our Sins

Re-discovering Sibbie: the Last Schuyler Slave

 

In 2016, I came across a burial index card for a woman identified as “Libbie,” a servant of the Schuyler family. At first glance, it seemed this might be the same Libby who is recorded as being a slave at the Schuyler Manison (The Pastures) in Albany as well as the family’s farm at Saratoga. The search for her headstone at Albany Rural Cemetery uncovered a different story.

In recent years, there has been much attention given to the slaves of the Schuyler family at The Flatts. In 2005, excavations at a commercial site across Broadway (Route 32) from the Schuyler Flatts Park uncovered the bones of slaves buried in a plot separate from the Schuyler family’s own burial ground.

A Chronology of The Flatts History
After a period of examination by experts at the New York State Museum, these remains were reburied in a special public ceremony at the historic Saint Agnes Roman Catholic Cemetery near their original resting place. The reburial took place on June 17, 2016.
The names of those slaves are unknown, their stories pieced together as much as possible from their bones and the circumstances of their original burial.

Just across the fence dividing Saint Agnes from the neighboring Albany Rural Cemetery, however, is the long-forgotten grave of a woman who was the last known slave of the Schuylers at The Flatts.

Located on the North Ridge at Albany Rural, the tilting headstone is small and almost completely illegible. The white marble has eroded to the point where its inscription is only visible through rubbings. A flag and Grand Army of The Republic marker misplaced from some other grave might give the impression that it is the burial place of a Civil War soldier; there are several Union veterans and one Confederate buried in the same section and it’s probably the metal G.A.R. marker was accidentally moved from one of the former.

Inside the Rural Cemetery’s office, the Single Grave Book identifies the grave as that of “Libbie” Schuyler. (Colored). Widow Schuyler’s servant. The entry is handwritten, the name “Libbie” is traced over in red ink.

A stamp on the page notes that “this record was made from the lot,” meaning it was transcribed from the headstone. However, when it was transcribed, a small, but significant mistake was made.

The front of the headstone reads, A Faithful Servant of The Schuyler Family Died Nov 24 1862. The curved top edge is carved with the name, LIBBIE.

Significantly, what appears to be an “L” is, in fact, an “S.”

The woman buried here is Sibbie (also known as Sibina or Sibby), the last documented slave at The Flatts.

The following obituary appeared in the West Troy Advocate in November, 1862.

“DEATH OF AN AGED COLORED WOMAN – Many of our citizens may have seen or heard of the infirm and decrepit colored woman living at the residence of Mrs. SCHUYLER – at the SCHUYLER homestead in Watervliet. She is now no more, death having closed her existence on Sunday night last. Her history is somewhat peculiar. She is supposed to have been born as a slave in Tarrytown Westchester Co. – her first “massa” being a man named Storms, by whom she was held for several years when she was sold to a family name VANDENBURGH then residing in Schaghticoke, Rensselaer Co. She lived here several years, when, about 60 years since, she became the property of the late Philip S. SCHUYLER, and was brought to this town where she has ever since resided. When the act abolishing slavery in this State took effect, she, of course, became free but she preferred to remain with her former master. SABINA – ‘SIBBY’ as she was called was thought highly of by the descendants of her former master, and by them for the past 12 years (during which time she has been almost entirely helpless) she has been tenderly cared for. Her age was not positively known but could have been very little, if any, short of 90 years. Her funeral took place yesterday afternoon and was quite largely attended. Her remains were interred in the cemetery.”

A search of census records from Westchester County shows several individuals named Storm or Storms who were slaveowners, including a Thomas Storm who had three slaves according to the 1790 census and one in the 1800 census. Another Storm is recorded as living in the Schaghticoke area, too. There is probably a familial connection which might have facilitated Sibina’s sale to the Vandenburghs. The possible buyer of Sibbie might have been one Lavinus (Livinus) Vandenburgh who is identified in census records as owning two slaves in 1790, but none after 1800. Another family connection may have played a role in her sale to the Schuylers; Philip S. Schuyler who purchased her was married to one Rachael Vandenburgh.

The Philip S. Schuyler who purchased Sibbie and brought her to The Flatts in Watervliet is not to be confused with his more famous cousin, General Philip Schuyler of Albany. Philip S. Schuyler was the son of Stephanus Schuyler and Engeltie Van Vechten. In 1810, Philip S. Schuyler is listed as owning four slaves there. One of those four slaves would have been Sibbie.

When the gradual abolition of slavery in New York State took full effect in 1827, Sibbie would have been emancipated. She remained with the Schuylers at The Flatts. By this time, she would have been between fifty-five and sixty-five years old. Perhaps starting a new live as a free woman of color would have been too great a challenge for her.

It appears that Sibbie stayed on as a servant to the “Widow Schuyler” listed in the Cemetery’s Single Grave Book. This “Widow Schuyler” is most likely Angelica Lansing, widow of Philip S. Schuyler’s son, Lucas. Lucas Van Vechtan Schuyler died in 1852 and Angelica lived with the extended Schuyler family at The Flatts as a widow until her own death in 1874. The name “Angelica Schuyler” appears frequently in city directories and other records from this period, but because of the tendency for some of Albany’s older prominent families to repeat names quite frequently (even withing the same generation), it’s difficult to say if any of these Angelicas are the same as the Angelica Lansing Schuyler at The Flatts.

By 1850, Sibbie’s health had begun to fail. The death notice stated that she had become “helpless” in her advanced age and that the Schuyler family cared for her “tenderly” for her final twelve years. The 1850 state census mentions her as one “Sylva Sabina” in the Schuyler household and gives her age as seventy-five. The 1860 federal census lists her as “Sibina Jackson,” colored, and gives her age as eighty. The origin of the surname Jackson is unknown at this time. It is the only instance where she is known by a last name and it is not known if she ever married. Also, it is not known if she was indeed eighty years old or this was an estimate of her age with her actual birth year being unknown. Her cause of death is also unknown, but it can be safely attributed to her advanced age.

By the time Sibbie died in 1862, the old slave burial grounds were not in use. The site where slaves had been buried was no longer part of The Flatts; it had been sold and redeveloped.

The Schuylers had a very old burial ground for the family close to their house, but by the 1860s, it was used infrequently. Lucas and Angelica were probably among the last buried there. In 1874, the same year Angelica Lansing Schuyler was buried there, publisher and historian Joel Munsell wrote that the old Flatts cemetery was in a neglected condition and that “the approach of streets and dwellings indicates an invasion at no distant day of this enclosure, and the removal of these bones and monuments to the cemetery over the way.” Some Schuylers, including Philip S. and Rachael, Lucas, and Angelica, were removed to new family plots at Albany Rural in the 1870s. In the 1920s, the remaining graves at The Flatts were indeed removed to Albany Rural and arranged behind the monument to General Schuyler in Lot 2, Section 29. Stephanus Schuyler and his wife, Engletie, are among those in Section 29

The original Schuyler Flatts burial ground
So, Sibbie, the last documented slave at The Flatts, was buried not buried at The Flatts which had been her home for six decades, but at the Albany Rural Cemetery. She was interred in Grave #1, Tier #1, Section 98 on the North Ridge.

Sibbie’s simple headstone was most likely purchased by the Schuyler family, perhaps by the Widow Schuyler. Over the years, the elements eroded the soft white marble so, when the inscription was transcribed to the Single Grave Book, her name was recorded as “Libbie.” With the misplacement of a G.A.R. marker, her grave became easily mistaken for a soldier’s and the grave of this former slave easily forgotten.

See more from Paula at https://www.facebook.com/ARCbeyondthegraves/

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Copyright 2017 Paula Lemire

The 1806 Eclipse in Albany NY

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz21032395_1406845769363681_2920036139142033724_nThe Eclipse in Albany – June 16, 1806; commenced about 11 am and the total eclipse lasted about 5 minutes in duration.

“Then came the great eclipse of 1806 which clearly announced the fall and final end of the Dutch Dynasty.”  from “Random Recollections of Albany from 1800 to 1808” by Gorham A. Worth

There was a painting made by Albany artist Ezra Ames, (alas the painting appears to have be “lost”) based on a much discussed description by Simeon De Witt, Surveyor General of New York State (and designer of the street grids for Albany and New York City).

“The edge of the moon was strongly illuminated, and had the brilliancy of polished silver. No common colors could express this. I therefore directed it to be attempted by a raised silver rim. No verbal description can give anything like a true idea of this sublime spectacle, with which man is so rarely gratified. In order to have a proper conception of what is intended to be represented, you must transfer your ideas to the heavens and imagine, at the departure of the last ray of the Sun, in his retreat behind the Moon, an awful gloom in an instant diffused over the face of nature, and around a dark circle near the south, an immense radiated glory, like a new creation, bursting on the sight, and for some minutes fixing the gaze of man in silent amazement.
As no verbal description can give any thing like a true idea of this sublime spectacle, with which mani is so rarely gratified, I thought this painting would not be an unwelcome present to the Society, or an improper article to be preserved among its collection of subjects for philosophical speculation. But, in order to have a proper conception of what is intended to be represented, you must transfer your ideas to the heavens, and imagine, at the departure of the last ray of the sun, in its retreat behind the moon, an awful gloom immediately diffused over the face of nature; and round a dark circle, near the zenith, an immense radiated glory, like a new creation, in a moment bursting on the sight, and for several minutes fixing the gaze of man in silent amazement. The luminotus circle on the edge of the moon, as well as the rays which were darted from her, were remarkably pale, and had that bluish tint, which distinguishes the colour of quicksilver from a dead white.”

copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Gallow’s Hill – Albany’s Last Public Execution

On August 24,1827- between 30,000 and 40,000 people came to see Albany’s last public execution when Jesse Strang was hanged at Gallows Hills near the Ruttenkill for an infamous murder.

( We guess you packed a picnic lunch and bought souvenirs. for the kids.)

Jesse Strang, of Putnam County deserted his wife and children in the belief that his wife was unfaithful. He became a drifter and went to Ohio but shortly after returned to New York in 1826. The scandalous nature of his separation might have stopped then if there had not been a baggage problem that caused him to seek a job in Albany.
zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz21077633_1409007342480857_4985302491132898954_nStrang met Elsie Whipple in a tavern in Albany. Elsie was the daughter of Abraham Lansing and Elsie Van Rensselaer and wife of John Whipple. Strang fell in love with Elsie and took a job as a handyman under the name of Joseph Orton in Cherry Hill, the Van Rensselaers’ residence. Elsie fell in love with him. Elsie tended to be grumpy, irksome, and prone to hysterics and violent shouting fits. She felt domineered and controlled by her husband. The lovers kept in touch with the help of members of the household who passed letters between them.
Elsie decided that the best thing for them to do was to kill John and run away. Elsie conspired with a reluctant Jesse to poison John’s tea with arsenic so they could elope, but their attempt failed.
John Whipple became suspicious and kept a loaded gun. In May 1827, Elsie stole the bullet and gave it to Strang, and once more insisted that Strang kill her husband. Strang climbed onto the roof of the shed one night and used his rifle to shoot and kill Whipple. Strang then immediately ran towards a local store to secure an alibi. He then returned to Cherry Hill and helped a doctor remove the bullet from Whipple’s body.
Later, however, the police ruled that he could have traveled the mile from Cherry Hill to the store and detained Whipple on suspicion of the murder. Upon capture, a fearful Strang, hoping for a lighter sentence, confessed and blamed Elsie for conception of the plan. This led to the incarceration of Elsie. Whenever they communicated in jail, Elsie reminded him that had he not confessed, the two might have gotten off scot-free in Montreal, as they had been planning to escape there.
Trial
Believing Elsie would be given a lighter sentence as she was a woman, Jesse asked his lawyer, Calvin Pepper, to plant documents at Cherry Hill incriminating Elsie as the mastermind behind the plan as he had burned the letters she sent him. Pepper refused and told him he would not receive a lighter sentence whatever he did.
As Jesse suspected, Elsie was said to be the victim, but she had purchased the rifle, she removed the curtain in John’s room so Jesse could shoot John.
At Strang’s trial, the district attorney was Edward Livingston, a relative of the Van Rensselaers and Lansings’ who told Jesse to his face, “You are guilty, you must be convicted, you must die!” Presiding Judge Duer called him a “serpent” and a “fiend”. When the judge asked the jury for a verdict, the jury deliberated for less than 15 minutes before pronouncing him guilty of murder.
Three days after Strang’s trial, Elsie Whipple stood trial for aiding and abetting the murder of her husband. In four days, Elsie was pronounced not guilty and cleared of charges. After Strang finished testifying on the stand at Elsie’s trial, he was sentenced to death by hanging.

Thanks to Paula Lemire for remembering the date and photos of Gallows Hill and to Wiki for synopsis of the murder.

Copyright 2021  Julie O’Connor

The Un-Dutching of Albany

“Albany was indeed Dutch, in all its moods and tenses; thoroughly and inveterately Dutch.”

But even the dogs changed their accents.

The following is from “Random Recollections of Albany: From 1800 to 1808” (published in 1866).. It was written by Gorham A. Worth, a banker who had lived here during his 20s and then went on to make a lot of money and impart upon the world his recollections of multiple places, including Hudson and Cincinnati.

Anyway, there’s an interesting section early in Worth’s book that recalls a significant change in Albany: the shift from Dutch culture to a more English/American/Yankee culture. Spoiler: Albany wasn’t a fan of change
“The Yankees were creeping in. Every day added to their number; and the unhallowed hand of innovation was seen pointing its impertinent finger at the cherished habits and venerated customs of the ancient burgers.”
It’s a fun and interesting read, so we clipped it…
Worth’s recollection of Albany in 1800 is of a city that he regarded as a kind of backwater — but, um, in a good way. “Nothing could be more unique or picturesque to the eye, than Albany in its primitive days. Even at the period above mentioned, it struck me as peculiarly naive and beautiful. All was antique, clean and quiet.”
He continues a little later on…””Pearl street, it must be remembered, was, in those days, the west end for the town; for there the town ended, and there resided some of the most aristocratic of the ancient burgers. There, a little after sunrise, in a mild spring morning, might be seen, sitting by the side of their doors, the ancient and venerable Mynheers with their little sharp cocked hats, or red-ringed worsted caps (as the case might be), drawn tight over their heads. There they sat, like monuments of a former age, still lingering on the verge of time; or like mile-stones upon a turnpike road, solus in solo! or, in simple English, unlike anything I had ever seen before. But there they sat, smoking their pipes in that dignified silence, and with that phlegmatic gravity, which would have done honor to Sir Wonter Van Twiller, or even to Puffendorf himself. The whole line of the street, on either side, was dotted by the little clouds of smoke, that, issuing from their pipes, and, curling around their noddles, rose slowly up the antique gables, and mingled with the morning air; giving beauty to the scene, and adding an air of life to the picture. But the great charm was in the novelty of the thing. I had seen a Dutch house before, but never till then had I seen a row of Dutchmen smoking in a Dutch city.

Albany was indeed Dutch, in all its moods and tenses; thoroughly and inveterately Dutch. The buildings were Dutch–Dutch in style, in position, attitude and aspect. The people were Dutch, the horses were Dutch, and even the dogs were Dutch. If any confirmation were wanting, as to the origin and character of the place, it might be found in the old Dutch church, which was itself always to be found in the middle of State street, looking as if it had been wheeled out of line by the giants of old, and there left; or had dropped down from the clouds in a dark night, and had stuck fast where it fell.

All the old buildings in the city — and they constituted a large majority — were but one story high, with sharp peaked roofs, surmounted by a rooster, vulgarly called a weathercock. Every house, having any pretensions to dignity, was placed with its gable end to the street, and was ornamented with huge iron numericals, announcing the date of its erection; while from its eaves long wooden gutters, or spouts, projected in front some six or seven feet, so as to discharge the water from the roof, when it rained, directly over the centre of the sidewalls. This was probably contrived for the benefit of those who were compelled to be out in wet weather, as it furnished them with an extra shower-bath free of expense.
But the destined hour was drawing near. The Yankees were creeping in. Every day added to their number; and the unhallowed hand of innovation was seen pointing its impertinent finger at the cherished habits and venerated customs of the ancient burgers. These meddling eastern Saxons at length obtained a majority in the city councils; and then came an order, with a handsaw, to “cut off those spouts.” Nothing could exceed the consternation of the aforesaid burgers, upon the announcement of this order. Had it been a decree abolishing their mother tongue, it could hardly have excited greater astonishment, or greater indignation. “What!” said they, “are our own spouts, then, to be measured and graduated by a corporation standard! Are they to be cut off or foreshortened, without our knowledge or consent!” But the Dutch still retained the obstinacy, if not the valor, of their ancestors. They rallied their forces and at the next election, the principal author of the obnoxious order (my old friend Elkanah Watson), was elected a constable of the ward in which he lived! This done, they went to sleep again; and before they awoke, new swarms had arrived, and a complete and thorough revolution had taken place. The Yankees were in possession of the city! and the fate of the Dutch was sealed.

A restless, leveling, innovating spirit, now prevailed throughout the city. The detested word improvement was in every mouth, and resistance was unavailing. The stinted pines became alarmed, and gradually receded. The hills themselves gave way. New streets opened their extended lines, and the old ones grew wider. The roosters on the gable heads, that for more than a century had braved the Indians and the breeze; that had even flapped their wings and crowed in the face of Burgoyne himself, now gave it up, and came quietly down. The gables in despair soon followed, and more imposing fronts soon reared their corniced heads. The old Dutch Church itself, thought to be immortal, submitted to its fate and fell! not at the foot of Pompey’s statute, exactly, but at the foot of State street, which freed from the obstruction thenceforward became the Rialto of the city, where peddlers of stale sea-cod, and country hucksters, now do congregate.

Even the dogs now began to bark in broken English; many of them, indeed, had already caught the Yankee twang, so rapid was the progress of refinement. In the process of a few brief years, all that was venerable in the eyes of the ancient burgers disappeared. Then came the great eclipse of 1806, which clearly announced the fall and final end of the Dutch dynasty. It is hardly necessary to say, that not an iron rooster has crowed upon the gable heads, nor a civil cocked hat been seen in the ancient city of Albany, from that day to this.”

Worth then goes on to discuss the famous local families of the time, many of them with names that still echo today: Van Rensselaer, Ten Broeck, Gansevoort, Lansing, Van Schaick, Ten Eyck, Pruyn, and so on.

Excerpted from 8/24/17 All Over Albany

Global Domination.. Why Albany is the home of the American Globe

The man who manufactured the first globe in the United States was a farmer and part time blacksmith, James Wilson. He was born in New Hampshire 1763, but moved to Bradford, Vt. in 1796. While on a brief visit to nearby Dartmouth College he saw a pair of terrestrial and celestial globes and resolved to try and duplicate the effect. Family documents indicate that Wilson’s meager knowledge of geography and astronomy made it necessary for him to purchase a voluminous and well-illustrated encyclopedia, using money from sale of farm stock. He also visited Amos Doolittle, New Haven, for some instruction on engraving (Doolittle’s engravings had been included in Jedediah Morse’s “Geography Made Easy” (1784), the first geography published in the U.S.)

Wilson experimented with various methods to construct the globe and engrave on a curved surface. After many attempts he had a globe he felt he could sell. The earliest sale identified dates to 1810, but more work was required. Family tradition has it that Wilson published his “first edition” of perfected globes in 1814, and exhibited them in Boston. He manufactured both terrestrial and celestial globes. “The small unpainted black­ smith shop had become a globe factory which was throwing off its products as far as Amherst and paralyzing the heart of the English globe trade in America.”

2Wilson realized he needed to move his operation to an urban area, but didn’t want to leave the farm, so he sent 2 of his sons to start the business in Albany. The date the Wilson Globe manufactory started in Albany is not clear, although it was about 1815 and most certainly not later than 1817. The location was Washington Ave., but there are various addresses within a 5 year period – 110, 133 and 166 – all in the block between Swan and Dove. The globes were sold directly by the Wilsons and by commission agents in places like New Haven, New York City and Boston, as well as the western parts of New York State.

4.1     Initially, the oldest Wilson son Samuel seems to have been in charge of the Albany shop, but a year later, another son, John is running the Albany business in 1818. David, Wilson’s third son, joined his older brothers at Albany, and did the engraving on a forthcoming new edition of three-inch terrestrial and celestial globes. (He left the business in the early 1820s to become a painter of miniatures.)

The celestial globes made at that time “had the Greek letters affixed to the groups of stars, and were furnished with a new horizon,” as one observer states. “The frames of the sets were of ash and each globe was furnished with a brass quadrant and the screw at the bottom could be easily turned with the fingers without a screw driver. Each globe was packed in a pine box of material half an inch in thickness, planed, and dovetailed, with hinges and clasp.”

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The high point of the company came in 1826, when they brought out an entirely new set of plates for all three sizes of globes. It was’ after this new edition that James Wilson withdrew from the ·direct involvement the business side of the company, and he introduced Cyrus Lancaster, a young man who had studied at Philips Academy into the firm. He was doubtless expected to speed up sales to the educational institutions.

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The new edition of the globes, complete in every way, their appearance quite equal to the London make, and their engraving of the North American continent more accurate, the Wilsons told their story to the nation’s capital. In December, 1827 members of Congress were presented with a notices which touted the American manufactured globes by James Wilson & Sons, Albany NY, “exhibiting now for public inspection at the United States Library of Congress” a pair of thirteen-inch globes, and claimed he was “the original manufacturer of Globes in this country, and has brought the art to such a degree of perfection, as to supersede altogether the necessity of importation of that article from abroad.”

All was going well until about 1830 when both of James’ sons, John and Samuel, die in quick succession. Cyrus Lancaster, the employee brought in by Wilson in the 1820s now ran the business, while James remained in Vt. In 1835, Cyrus marries Samuel’s widow Rebecca, raises the Wilson children and has several more with Rebecca.

The business continued, but now there was competition and cheaper globes wee being manufactured in a much less labor intensive process, producing an adequate product for the growing masses eager to learn about the world However Cyrus Lancaster continued to manufacturer globes in Albany with superior quality. Throughout the 1830s and 1840s and until at least 1851, his globes win prizes because they were works not only of science and geography, but art as well. He continues to acknowledge James Wilson (and probably pay some sort of fee to him), but they are manufactured under his own name.

During the 1840s and early 1850s there are addresses for the business on Westerlo St., probably near Green, 144 Hamilton and 230 Dallius St. But there are no references to Cyrus after 1851 in Albany, and in 1854 we find him in Brooklyn as an inventor of a self-adjusting railroad switch and an improved ventilator for railroad cars.

5James Wilson died in 1855 in Bradford Vt, up on the farm he loved. Cyrus Lancaster died 8 years later in Brooklyn.

While James gets the credit for the invention of the globe, to this day globes with the gorgeous wooden frames you often see in libraries are still generally referred to as “Lancaster” models. Wilson and Wilson/Lancaster globes are on exhibit in museums all over the world, and when they do come up for sale they can fetch as much as $50,000. And if you want to buy a “Lancaster” globe from Walmart, it will cost you about $250.

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(Parts of this post excerpted from Leroy Kimball, “James Wilson of Vermont, America’s First Globe Maker”, April, 1938 “Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society”)

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor