Albany’s Dianna Mingo (1767-1872)

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

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

The Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Paula Lemire, Historian Albany Rural Cemetery

Albany: Washington DID Sleep Here

Washington’s first visit occurred in early March 1781. It would have been in response to an invitation by General Schuyler to the Washington to serve as godfather to Schuyler’s youngest daughter. George and his wife Martha traveled to Albany from White Plains. Catherine (one of 15 Schuyler children) was christened on March 4, 1781 in the Dutch Reformed Church; George and Martha were 2 of several of Catherine’s godparents, including her older sister Peggy (the most neglected of the Schuyler sisters in “Hamilton”). *

wash 2 (2)In 1782 George Washington came to Albany. His visit was a big deal; the General finally accepted a long standing invitation from the Mayor. He came up the River by sloop from Newburgh on June 27, arriving at 6pm and was met by Mayor Abraham Ten Broeck, city aldermen and other city officials. The church bells in the city rang for 2 hours followed by resounding booms from a 13 cannon salute from Fort Frederick. The Common Council ordered the City to be illuminated and the Town Crier to notify residents of the General’s presence. Washington proceeded by carriage from the docks (just above the Pastures, about where Madison and Quay St. meet today) to the Stadt Huys (City Hall) on Broadway and Hudson (that would be the southern tip of the area on which the SUNY Admin building sits).
wash 3)At the Stadt Huys he was presented with a gold box and the “Freedom of the City” (tribute bestowed by a city council rooted in ancient English tradition).

wash 4After the ceremony the General proceeded by carriage to the Schuyler Mansion for dinner and a glittering reception. The next day he inspected Fort Frederick, at the top of State St. hill (where the Capitol is located today) and then came down the hill to address the faithful of the Dutch Reformed Church (a/k/a the Blockhouse Church) situated at State and Broadway. That night he attended a dinner a Hugh Denniston’s Tavern at Beaver and Green. The next morning he was off early to Saratoga, accompanied by phalanx of soldiers for meetings in the environs of Saratoga and the Mohawk River with the Tuscaroras and Oneidas, returned to Albany, and then departed for his headquarters down in the Hudson Valley.

wash 8On his next visit in July 1783 visit Washington arrived again from Newburgh and was accompanied by Governor George Clinton. They were honored at a reception at Hugh Denniston’s Tavern (apparently the hot spot of Albany). The General delivered a speech in which he said, “.. I cannot but take a particular interest in the anticipation of the increase in prosperity and greatness of this Ancient and respectable City of Albany..”. The Governor and the General then walked with General Schuyler up Pearl St. for dinner at the home of Jeremiah Van Rensselaer (brother of Mrs. Schuyler) on east side of N. Pearl (probably close to Pine St.).

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Washington and Clinton departed the next day, after staying the night in the Schuyler Mansion, for 19 day trip as far north as Fort Ticonderoga and as far west as Fort Schuyler (Rome , NY), returning to Albany in August, before heading back to Newburgh. The trip was especially because of the number of Native American  tribes visited throughout the Mohawk Valley

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* The first visit is subject of some debate. It’s recounted in the biography of Catherine Schuyler Malcolm by her daughter Katherine Malcom Baxter “A Godchild to Washington”, but other records for March, 1781 place Washington en route from White Plains to Newport to meet Admiral Rochambeau with the French fleet. But it’s not impossible he stopped in Albany before embarking on that trip.

Copyright 2021  Julie O’Connor