Albany’s Whitehall Palace and Whitehall Road

The origins of Whitehall Rd. are somewhat murky, but it may originally have been a narrow track through the forest used by the Mahican Indians who lived along the Normanskill Creek. Its use as a dirt road for early colonial settlers probably dates back to the early 1700s. We know that about 1750 there was a barracks, stable and drill ground constructed for British troops during the French and Indian War near corner of Delaware Ave. (It’s location in old genealogies is identified as 150 yards west of Delaware Ave., on Whitehall Rd.)

In the late 1750s the site was enlarged by Col. John Bradstreet. Bradstreet was dispatched to Albany as deputy quartermaster for the British forces in North America. It was one of two storage depots – the other was in Halifax Nova Scotia, but Albany was the closest spot to the upstate frontier in the war with the French in Canada. (That’s probably when it acquired the name Whitehall. At that time Whitehall in London was the home of British government offices. The Albany site was often the home of British military government – where British commanders in North American, Lord Loudon and then Lord Amherst, and their officers often stayed while in Albany.

Bradstreet became great friends with General Philip Schuyler. The route from the Schuyler home on South Pearl and State St. and then new Mansion in the Pastures, would have lead down to “Whitehall Rd.” and then west to what is now Delaware Ave. (It became Second Ave. circa 1873.). It was the route used by Bradford and Schuyler used to travel to each other homes. The area west of Delaware Ave, intersection was called the Normanskill Rd. until about 1800.

At some point Bradstreet purchased the property from the Patroon (along with about another 20,000 acres scattered throughout the area) since it was part of the Manor of Rennselaerwyck. Despite his close relationships with American colonists, Bradstreet sided with the British in the Revolutionary War, and departed for New York City, where he died in 1774.

The property passed to John Bradstreet Schuyler (son of Philip Schuyler) in Bradstreet’s will. During the Revolution is was thought to be a hideout for Tories who came down from the Helderberg Mountains. Supposedly, this was the area where the British attackers massed before they invaded the Schuyler Mansion, attempting to kidnap General Philip Schuyler in 1781 (the raid that left the gouge in the Mansion staircase).

In 1789 the Broadstreet house and property were purchased by Leonard Gansevoort. He was from an old, and Albany Dutch aristocratic family and had amassed great wealth. He had a long career in politics and the law, had been a member of the Continental Congress, was the brother of the Revolutionary War General Peter Gansevoort (the “Hero of Fort Stanwix”), and the great uncle of author Herman Melville. Documents indicate that the legal work for the purchase was probably handled by Alexander Hamilton.

After a large fire swept through much of downtown Albany in 1793 destroying the Gansevoort home, they moved to the Whitehall property, Gansevoort enlarged it quite substantially, turning it into a proper mansion, designed for entertaining on a large scale. It was “statement” home meant to impress. It was immense (supposedly (100 ‘ x 70’), with two wings and four verandas on two stories running front and back. The Great Hall gave way to a grand dining room, a family dining room and a library; the other wing held reception rooms and a grand ballroom. Off to the side was the “Dood Kamer”, which, according to Dutch custom, was a room reserved for laying out the dead. The second floor including bedrooms and family sitting rooms. The Whitehall “Palace” as it came to be known was richly paneled with mahogany and other exotic woods. It was filled with imported china, silver, and silk and damask for drapes and upholstery. There were formal and wild gardens, riding trails and extensive farmland in the thousand acres surrounding the property. It was a self-contained compound, with many out buildings and stables. (Think of the historical documentaries about British grand houses – that was the Whitehall Palace. ) And to run the vast Palace, there were, in 1800, 13 people enslaved by Gansevoort.

In 1810 Gansevoort died and the property passed on to his daughter Magdalena, married to Jacob Ten Eyck. She continued her father’s lavish lifestyle for the next 20 or so years. There are stories of streams of carriages of the Albany wealthy making their way over the Bethlehem Turnpike (Delaware Ave.) to glittering events at the Palace. As Magadelena and Jacob grew older they remained in the house, but started to sell off their land. Many of the farmers who purchased the land over the years were German (Kobler, Friebel, Etling, Klapp, Werker and Swarts. If you look carefully you can still see 3 or 4 older residences in the neighborhood that were original farm houses.) By the mid-1830s the street name appeared on maps appears as Whitehall Rd, and extended to the New Scotland Plank Rd.

In 1883 the Palace burned to the ground; by then it was referred to as the Ten Eyck Mansion.

A smaller house was built at 73 Whitehall Rd., surrounded by an area then known as Ten Eyck Park/Whitehall Park. This area was bounded by what is now Matilda St., Ten Eyck Ave., and Whitehall Rd. In 1909 the building was the Washington Hotel, but has been a residence for the past century.

By 1911 the Whitehall Park Development for “working men” was established on Sard and McDonald Roads, and residential development in the Whitehall Rd. began in earnest and continued steadily for the next 50 years. Within 5 years that area, which had been part of the town of Bethlehem was annexed into the city of Albany. It would not be until the 1960s, after a number of annexations through the decades, that both sides of Whitehall Rd. from Delaware Ave. to New Scotland Ave. would become part of the city.

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Marquis de Lafayette in Albany

Lafayette’s First Visit to Albany 1778 – Chasing the Wild Goose

During the Revolution, Lafayette was used as a pawn by the Conway Cabal (a group of U.S. military officers seeking to oust General Washington as head of the patriot army). The Marquis was sent to Albany in February and March 1778 to plan an incursion into Canada from Albany. The proposed expedition was nothing more than a ploy to get young and charismatic Lafayette out of the way, and separate him from Washington. He wrote General Washington from Albany and to Governor Clinton about the futility of mounting an expedition. (The long lost letter to Clinton was discovered in Albany almost 60 years ago.) The northern campaign was called off in late March 1778, and Lafayette departed Albany for Valley Forge on March 31.

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Schuyler Mansion

While in Albany he stayed at the Schuyler Mansion, as a guest of General Philip Schuyler, where we assume he met Eliza, who would marry his good friend, Alexander Hamilton, in another 3 years, and he probably met Peggy too. (The third Schuyler sister, Angelica, was in Boston, awaiting the birth of her first child, following her elopement with John Barker Church in 1777.) We assume his chagrin about being dispatched from Washington’s side was soothed by the warmth and abundant hospitality of the Schuyler home and the charms of the Schuyler sisters.

As you can see by the map from 1790 (12 years after Lafayette’s visit), Albany was a still a small city, but no longer a rural outpost. It had become a major port. The downtown streets we know today, State, Pearl and Broadway, were the main arteries of the City. He would have visited the fort at the top of State St. hill where the Capitol is today; the Schuyler aunts, who still lived on one of the corners of State and Pearl, and the Stadt Haus (City Hall) about where the D & H Building is located. All of these were within an easy walk of the Mansion. We think it sort of thrilling to know that you can visit the house where Lafayette lived for over a month and walk the same streets he walked.

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Lafayette’s Second Visit to Albany (a/k/a The Reunion Tour) 1824

In 1824 Lafayette was invited to America by President Monroe to tour all 24 states while celebrating the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Revolution and to instill in Americans the “spirit of 1776”. He received a hero’s welcome all across the country. Albany was no different. Lafayette arrived in the evening of September 17. His carriage and escort were ferried across the Hudson from Greenbush. A large crowd greeted him, and his carriage, accompanied by troops, proceeded under a series of arches welcoming The Hero to the Capitol building (the 1st Capitol, constructed in 1809 – about where the current building is located). There he was met by the Governor and other luminaries. The party traveled a short distance to the home of Matthew Gregory, with whom Lafayette had served during the battle of Yorktown in 1781. A large ball was held in Lafayette’s honor in the Assembly hall, but he “stayed but an hour”, retiring to the Congress Hall Hotel, adjacent to the Capitol.

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On the next day, September 18, the Marquis arose early, and after a brief ceremony, was escorted to his boat, waiting to whisk him to Troy. After ceremonies in Troy, including a visit to Mrs. Willard’s female seminary, he returned to Albany, gathered up his baggage, and was escorted by torch light to the “James Kent” steamboat, waiting to take him back to New York.

There is a plaque in Albany’s Lafayette Park commemorating  LaFayette’s visits to Albany.

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Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Charles R. Webster, Patriot and Printer

His monument stands at the opening of a little alcove of trees on the old South Ridge. Just behind this shaded space, Glen Cross Bridge once connected Sections 5 and 9.
The monument is one of those simple white obelisks that became so popular as grave markers in the early 19th century. For many years, its inscriptions were obscured by grime, but cleaning has since revealed the words:
In Memory of Charles R. Webster
Born at Hartford, Conn.
September 30, 1762.
Died at Saratoga Springs
July 18th, 1834
Having Been An Inhabitant
Of The City of Albany
For 50 Years.
Instrumental In The
Establishment of The First
Newspaper
In This City, He Was For
Nearly Half A Century
Its Honest and Impartial
Conductor.
Education and Virtue
Had In Him
An Unwearied Supporter
And of Every Institution
To Promote Them
He Was
The Advocate And Friend
His Aim Was
To Have His Life Conformed
To The Great Maxim of The Gospel:
His Prayer
To Have His Heart Right With God
And His Trust In The Merits of The
Redeemed.
A plaque at the foot of the monument honors him as a Revolutionary War Soldier and was placed by the Yosemite Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution National Headquarters
.
Charles R. Webster came from a respectable, but impoverished family, he had been apprenticed to a printer in Hartford at the age of seven. That apprenticeship did not end until he turned twenty-one. At the close of his apprenticeship, he served in the Revolution as a Private in Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Grosvenor’s Company in the 3rd Connecticut Regiment commanded by Colonel Samuel Wyllys.
Within a year of the War’s end, Charles Webster had moved to Albany. He returned to Hartford to marry Rachel Steele in 1787 with whim he had two children.
In Albany, he pursued the printer’s trade, forming a partnership with Samuel Ballantine. Together, they offered a full service of publishing from books to a newspaper, but the partnership dissolved after a year and Charles’ twin brother George joined him in the business.
According to publisher Joel Munsell, there was no permanent printing house north of Fishkill when Webster established himself in the trade in Albany.
Within a few years, Charles Webster was the leading publisher in Albany. In addition to private work and the newspaper, the Albany Gazette, the Federalist-leaning Webster also served as the official provider of printing services to the City of Albany.
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His civic interests were varied; he was active with the Albany Library and the Lancaster School, as well as the founding vice-president of the Albany Mechanics Society and an officer of the First Presbyterian Church.
In 1793, a fire devastated Albany, destroying numerous homes and businesses. In its aftermath, the Webster brothers moved their firm from its original location at State Street and Middle Alley to the corner of State and North Pearl. It was usually known as Elm Tree Corner of the ancient tree planted by Philip Livingston, but was just as often referred to as Webster’s Corner for the yellow wooden printing house at the northwest side.
In 1794, Rachel Steele Webster died after an illness. Two years later, Charles married her sister, Cynthia, and they made their home at 83 State Street.
As evidenced by the inscription on his monument, he was regarded as an esteemed member of the community. He was known as an honest, temperate, and “remarkably laborious man” of simple habits who rose at four in the morning and returned home at nine at night. His pleasure in the evening was to walk along the city’s North Gate or the Pastures to the south or a place known only as “the Willow Walks.” Other evenings might find him in the reading rooms or calling upon old friends or tending to his garden.
His twin brother, George, died in 1823. Charles lived until 1834.
At the time of his death, he had been suffering from a swollen gland on the right side his face followed by a chronic distention of his right arm. He might have, as was common at the time, gone to Saratoga Springs to “take the waters” of the famous mineral springs for his health.
On July 18, 1834, with his wife at his side, he died at the age of 71. His last words were, “Call the family.”
His body was returned to Albany and was buried in what was then the First Presbyterian section of the State Street Burying Grounds (now Washington Park just west of modern Sprague Place). When that cemetery closed, his grave was moved to Albany Rural Cemetery.
Cynthia Steele Webster survived Charles by fourteen years. She died in Orleans County in December 1848.
Webster’s is one of only a few larger monuments transported from their original graves to the Rural. A engraving of it done while still in the old Burying Grounds appears in Volume V of Joel Munsell’s “Annals of Albany.”
Charles R. Webster’s grave is located in Lot 2, Section 8.
Paula Lemire

There are more than 110 Revolutionary War soldiers buried in Albany Rural Cemetery

When the Battles of Lexington and Concord ended on April 19, 1775 word spread like wildfire through the Colonies. Everyone had been waiting for this, knowing it would come, and not knowing what would happen next. Except that it would be dangerous – 8 colonists died and 9 were wounded on that day.

Yet thousands of men rushed to serve. (Over 350,000 men served in the War over its 7 years.)

There are more than 110 Revolutionary War soldiers buried in Albany Rural Cemetery (and more waiting to be identified).

Some served in the Continental Army, others in state and county militias. Some fought in the local battles we’re all familiar with, like the Oriskany and Saratoga, while others served at Yorktown and Brandywine. Some lived in Albany when they joined the fight, others came to live here after the War. Some were lifelong soldiers, while others were members of minute man companies or the militia, ready to be called up at a moment’s notice.

We’ve put together several brief biographies of those interred at Albany Rural Cemetery that we hope provide you with a better sense of those who fought to forge a new nation.

Daniel Shields
Shields was born in Scotland, but lived in New York City. He enlisted in the Continental Army at the age of 14 (it appears he lied about his age). He served in a NYS regiment under Lafayette at the Battle of Yorktown. (He was discharged with the rank of captain.) Shields received a badge of merit signed by General Washington.

After the War Shields moved between Albany and Schenectady, trying his hand at different jobs. In 1824 Shields and Lafayette had a brief, but fond re-union when Lafayette visited Albany as part of his American tour. Shields’ granddaughter married Leland Stanford (also from Albany), the railroad mogul, politician and founder of Stanford University.

Shields died in 1835, and is interred in Lot 21, Section 11 of the Cemetery.

Goose (Gosen) Van Schaick
Van Schaick was the son of a merchant, who was once mayor of Albany. He’d fought in many battles in the French and Indian War. In 1770 he married a local girl, Maria Ten Broeck; the couple lived on Market St. (now Broadway).

Van Schaick represented his ward on the Albany Committee of Correspondence and would actively serve in the War. He was wounded at the Battle of Ticonderoga in 1777 (in the cheek-the site of a previous wound) and served at the Battle of Monmouth. He was also part of what has come to be known as one of the darker parts of our history, the Sullivan Raids in 1779, in which most of the Indian Nation in the western part of the State was brutally savaged by American troops.

At the end of the War Brevet Brigadier General Goose Van Schaick returned to Albany, still troubled by his cheek wound (which had been determined to be cancerous).

He died on July 4, 1789, age 53. Goose and Maria are buried side by side in Lot 5, Section 3.

Cornelius Van Vechten
Van Vechten was born in 1735, son of a Schagticoke landowner who also served as a firemaster in Albany for a time.

Van Vechten was one of the signers of the constitution of the Albany “Sons of Liberty” in 1766, and 1775 was commissioned Lt. Colonel of the 11th (a/k/a Saratoga) regiment of the Albany County militia. At the time of the Saratoga campaign, the family home at Coveville (Saratoga County) was burned by the advancing British under General Burgoyne. Van Vechten served in the militia until the War ended.

Following the Revolution, Van Vechten served in the State Assembly and, later, as the town clerk in Schaghticoke. He died at age 78 in 1815.

The Van Vechtens were originally buried in the Dutch Reformed section of the State Street Burying Grounds. They were moved to Lot 7, Section 38 at the Cemetery in 1859.

Walter Whitney
Whitney was born in Fairfield, Connecticut in 1760. He served in a unit of the Connecticut artillery as a teenager, from 1777-1779. He subsequently became a school teacher in Connecticut, but moved to outside Albany in the late 1780s (in the towns of Berne and New Scotland) where he also farmed, until his family came into the city in the late 1820s.

He died in 1846 while living at 26 DeWitt Street (now a very small cul-de-sac between Broadway and Erie Blvd).

Whitney’s white marble headstone on the North Ridge is decorated with patriotic emblems – an eagle with a banner bearing the words E PLURIBUS UNUM and a shield rises above a cannon. Look closely alongside the cannon to see crossed swords. Above the eagle are thirteen stars (some are worn and hard to see) for the original thirteen colonies and 76 is carved between the eagle and the cannon.

The Whitney grave can be found in Lot 159, Section 92.

Abraham Eights
Abraham Eights was a second generation American (his grandfather was born in the Netherlands), son of a sea captain, born circa 1745. He settled in Albany in the 1760s, became a sailmaker and lived on Water St. on the Hudson River.

He was one of Albany’s original “Sons of Liberty” in 1766. At the start of War in 1775 he was commissioned a Lt. in the Albany County Militia, but later resigned. He’s found in subsequent records (1777-1779) serving as a private in the Albany County militia on an as needed basis. It appears that he helped the cause with cash and in-kind contributions (ensuring sails were in working order for the sloops that plied the River, and for his next door neighbor Capt. Stewart Dean, who was a commissioned privateer during the War, and with whom he served in the Militia).

Eights became a wealthy man and in later years was the Dockmaster of Albany. His grandson was James Eights who painted the wonderful watercolors of Albany that show us how the city looked in the early 1800s.

Abraham died in 1820, and is buried in Section 52, Lot 13.*

Josiah Burton
Burton was born Connecticut in 1741. The family then moved just across the border to Amenia in Dutchess County. Historical data suggest that Burton was a silversmith. In May 1775 he was commissioned as a captain in the Dutchess County Militia. It appears he resigned that commission because in 1777 he’s a first lieutenant in an Albany county militia regiment, mustered out of Kinderhook. He moved to Albany in the 1790s and is listed in the Albany County census in the first ward in 1800.

Burton died in 1803 at the age of 61. He’s buried in Section 49, lot 5. *

Benjamin Lattimore – African-American Revolutionary War Soldier
Benjamin Lattimore was born a free man in 1761 in Connecticut. At the outbreak of the Revolutionary War he was living in Ulster County, near New Marlborough, several miles south of Poughkeepsie. Lattimore enlisted (while still a teenager) with the 5th NY Regiment, Continental Army i(n 1776 once Black men were allowed to serve).

A few days later his company was sent to NYC where they took part in the Battle of Manhattan. Later that year he was on duty at Fort Montgomery (on the Hudson, just north of Bear Mountain) when he was captured along with hundreds of other Continentals by the British. Lattimore was re-captured by the Americans in Westchester, and re-joined the Continental Army.

Lattimore’s regiment was also part of the Sullivan Expedition in the western part of NY”, designed to punish the Iroquois for raiding frontier settlements.

By the late 1790s Lattimore and his family moved to Albany. He was licensed by the city as a “cartman” (authorized to haul cargo through the city streets). By about 1810 Lattimore also owned a grocery store, ad began to accumulate real estate.

Throughout the rest of his life Lattimore was active in advancing the conditions of African- Americans in Albany. He was part of a group that established the first “Albany School for Educating People of Color” in the ealry 1800s, was founding member of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and was chairman of the Albany committee to celebrate the abolition of slavery in New York State in 1827.

He died in 1838 at the age of 78 and was buried in the AME cemetery. Records indicate that his remains were moved to Albany Rural Cemetery, but his headstone has gone missing.

*Abraham Eights’ daughter Catherine married John Burton, son of Josiah Burton in the 1790s (my 3rd great grandparents).

Thanks to Paula Lemire, Historian at the. Historic Albany Rural Cemetery for much of this information and to Stefan Bielinski, for the information he has discovered about Benjamin Lattimore in his Colonial Albany Project http://exhibitions.nysm.nysed.gov//albany/welcome.html

Julie O’Connor

General Henry Knox, the Noble Artillery Train and a Cannon Named “The Albany”

The Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area recently placed a new monument at Jennings Landing on the Hudson River marking an Albany stop on the Knox Cannon Trail.

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The story of the Noble Artillery Train is one of ingenuity and pure grit. It was critical to America winning the Revolution.

knox trail 2Colonel Henry Knox started out as a bookseller from Boston who became a colonel (and ultimately a general) in the Continental Army. In fall 1775 someone (Knox or General Washington? – no one knows for sure) came up with a genius idea.

Retrieve the cannon at Fort Ticonderoga (captured by Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys earlier in the year) and at Crown Point, and get them to Boston to assist in the siege of the British Army. George Washington commissioned  the   task to the 25 year old Knox , said it should be done at all costs and allocated 1,000 pounds to cover expenses.

Easier said than done

The Train

It would require a journey of almost 300 miles in the middle of Northeastern winter. The trip took 40 days, crossed a lake, streams and rivers. Much of it was made through knee and waist deep snow.

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The expedition began in late November 1775. 59 cannon and other armaments from the Fort and Crown Point were selected and disassembled. The total weight was about 60,000 tons. The first part of the journey was over Lake George; the cannon were placed on 3 boats (one sank near Sabbath Day Point, but the cannon were retrieved). Knox had his men construct 42 sledges/sleighs to drag the cannon and hired 80 teams of oxen.* It would take weeks to make it to the Albany. It was slow going when there was no snow, but not much easier when it did (on one day there was a 2 ft. snow fall).

knox trail 4 (2)Albany and Thin Ice

Knox was in the advance guard and reached Albany on Christmas. He and his men “were almost perished with cold”. He met with General Philip Schuyler (who was sitting this one out for health reasons). There he negotiated for more oxen, but ended up with horses, and found more men to go north to help bring the cannons south. The first cannons reached Albany on January 4th, 1776.

But the weather had warmed and there was no way to get the cannon and sledges across the Hudson’s thin ice until the weather changed. Knox and some men  spent  New Year’s Day making holes in the Hudson River ice and letting it re-freeze in the hope it would become thick enough to the hold the cannon.

Meanwhile the people of Albany were thrilled to be part of this event, though they had no idea how important in history it would become.

In early January the Train set out again, crossing the Hudson, but not without mishap. One cannon sank, and the people of Albany came to Knox’s rescue.

From Knox’s diary:
(Jan) “8th. Went on the Ice About 8 oClock in the morning & proceeded so cautiously that before night we got over three sleds & were so lucky as to get the Cannon out of the River, owing to the assistance the good people of the City of Albany gave, In return for which we christen’d her – The Albany.”

Who knew? A cannon at the siege of Boston that was named after the “good people of the City of Albany”!

knox trail 5The rest of the journey, through the Berkshires and on to Boston was more slogging through snow. Knox reached Dorchester Heights, a promontory outside of that city, in late January 1776. It took a while but the guns were finally strategically placed, and shelling from the cannon began to rain down on the British ships in the harbor in early March 1776. The British left Boston several weeks later. The end of the siege was tremendous morale booster for the Americans after a 10 month stalemate. But they would suffer through another year and half of mostly defeats before the Battle of Saratoga in October, 1777.

 

Who were the men of the Train?

It’s curious there’s almost nothing known about the specific men who performed a nigh on to impossible achievement for Knox. They weren’t members of the Continental Army regiments (who at that time were engaged in the Battle of Quebec – an American defeat). Knox appears to have brought some engineers with him from Massachusetts, and acquired other men while he made a stop in New York City before proceeding north to Ticonderoga. But we feel sure there must have been some local men, including men from what is now Vermont. Men who knew the terrain, who understood the topography of the land between Lake George, through Saratoga and south.

We know that once Knox reached Albany he recruited additional men to go north to help speed the expedition and found additional men for the next leg of the journey – east to Boston. They were probably men from the Albany County Militia. Sadly, their names are lost to time. They must have been farmers, blacksmiths, carpenters, sail makers (like one of my multi-great grandfathers). Who knows who else? Just part of the great citizen army that supported the ideals of freedom in the face of Tyranny. They were hardly the “summer time soldiers” Thomas Paine railed against.

The Train Historical Markers

In 1926, the 150th anniversary of Knox’s march, New York and Massachusetts erected 59 historical markers in the two states that traced the route over which the expedition passed.

knox trail 8 new louson road and arrowhaed laneThere were 3 markers in Albany County. One marker was placed at 99 Purtell Rd. in Colonie. It’s since been moved and is now located on Rte. 9 in front of Troy Landscape Supply, just below the Mohawk River.

 

 

 

 

 

knox trail 18There were 2 markers in the city of Albany. The northern most marker was located at 339 Northern Blvd., which we believe is near the boundary of the old Philip Livingston Jr High School in Dudley Heights. It’s been moved to the edge of a strip mall opposite Memorial Hospital.

 

The second marker was placed in what was Riverside Park (191 Broadway), a one acre area created as an inner city playground and park next to Steamboat Square in the early 1900s. What was left of the Park almost vanished in 1932/1933 with the construction of the ramps for the first Dunn Memorial Bridge.  What remained was buried under Route 787 construction in the late 1960s and early 1970sred.

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*At Fort George Knox wrote Washington about the “noble train of artillery”.

Julie O’Connor

Albany’s Swashbuckling Captain Dean and the “Experiment”

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Stewart Dean was born in Maryland in 1748. It’s said he learned to sail off the coast of Maryland and captained his first ship while still in his teens. For reasons unknown he came to Albany in the late 1760s or early 1770s and quickly became a respected member of the community.

In 1773 he married Albany native Pieterje Bradt (a/k/a Bratt), daughter of a shipwright. He captained ships up and down the Hudson River and into the West Indies. In 1775 Dean and Abraham Eights, a sailmaker, own property next to one another on Dock St. along the River. (Eights was several years older than Dean, the son of a captain from NYC, who settled in Albany around the same time as Dean and it appears they became fast friends.)

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The Revolutionary War

In June 1776 Dean received a “letter of marque” from the Continental Congress. This commissioned Dean and his sloop the “Beaver” (90 tons, 6 cannon, 25 men) to act as a privateer. (Basically, this was a license to fit out an armed vessel, use it in the capture of enemy merchant shipping, and to commit acts which would otherwise have constituted piracy.) Within 3 months the “Beaver” and the brigantine “Enterprise” captured a prize,the “Earl of Errol” en-route from Jamaica to London. The “Earl” was taken to Boston where it was sold along with its cargo of sugar, cotton and rum. The investors who owned the “Beaver” sold it as well.

Dean returned to Albany where he and his friend Abraham enlisted in the first regiment of the Albany County Militia. Over the next 4 years they would participate in a number of campaigns, including the Battle of Oriskany, in the Mohawk Valley and the Battle of Saratoga.

Dean would become a member of the Albany Committee of Correspondence (the city’s governing body during the War) and its successor, the Committee for Detecting and Defeating Conspiracies (which may be my favorite organization name ever). By 1781 life in Albany had begun to return to a degree of normalcy although the War was not over (it wouldn’t end until 1783 with the Treaty of Paris). But life was apparently too dull for Dean.

In 1782 he was again commissioned as a privateer, on the schooner “Nimrod” (90 tons, outfitted with 25 men and 6 guns) out of Philadelphia. Allegedly part of his mission included carrying secret letters to the Caribbean to Admiral De Grasse, the commander of the French navy (who had been so instrumental in the American victory at Yorktown). In his 1833 application for a Revolutionary War pension Dean gave an account of this voyage. While at harbor on the island of St. Kitts the “Nimrod” was engaged by the British. Dean was wounded, captured, taken to Antigua and imprisoned for the better part of a month. Ultimately he was released, re-joined his crew and the “Nimrod” sailed back to America.*

By now one would think that Dean was ready to settle down, but tragedy struck. Pieterje died in 1783 as a result of childbirth. His great great grandson (who wrote Dean’s biography in the 1940s) thinks the death of his wife was the catalyst for the next chapter of Dean’s life.

China

In 1784 Dean was seized with the idea of sailing to China!

The first American ship to reach China was the “Empress of China”. It set sail in late 1784 and returned in April 1785. Dean found a group of Albany and New York City investors, and built and fitted out the “Experiment”, after conversations with Captain Greene of the “Empress”. The “Experiment” was relatively small – 80 tons and a crew of about 15. It sailed in December 1785 with a cargo of turpentine, furs, scotch, “Spanish milled dollars”, Madeira, and ginseng. The “Experiment” followed the route of the “Empress” on its 13,000 mile journey, around the Cape of Good Hope in Africa and through the Java and China Seas. It made its way past Macao and up the Pearl River to Canton, landing in June 1786. The “Experiment” was the second American ship to reach China, and greeted by crews from England, Spain, Holland, Portugal, Sweden, Demark and France. (Canton was the only place where foreigners were permitted to engage in trade with the Chinese.)

Dean returned to New York City harbor in April 1787, 18 months after he first set sail, with all members of the crew – a remarkable achievement. While great glory had gone to the “Empress of China”, the fact that a small ship with a small crew could make a successful journey proved the viability of Chinese trade. Her return trip was made in four months and twelve days, with a cargo consisting principally of teas and nankeen cotton (a pale yellow cotton, made in Nanking, China). Dean was said to have brought back lengths of silk for the family and 13 sets of china for Albany families that could afford such luxury. When the “Experiment” sailed up the Hudson to Albany, it was greeted by almost all of Albany’s then population of about 3,000.

Upon his return Dean married Margaret Todd Whetten, sister of one of the “Experiment” crew, in 1787. He continued to sail to China, sometimes for John Jacob Astor (Dean’s uncle by marriage) as captain of Astor’s “Severn”. (Astor began his career as trading fur in Albany in the 1780s after the Revolution, and was soon trading across the Atlantic. He would come to dominate American trade in China and became one of the richest men in the country.) The initial voyage of the “Severn” began in April 1800. It was the culmination of several years of planning, since its route around Cape Horn in South America was unfamiliar and potentially more dangerous, but theoretically shorter than the route around Africa. The gamble paid off. The “Severn” returned in little more than a year, laden with cargo that would make Astor even richer. (Other voyages of the “Severn” were captained by Dean’s brother-in-law John Whetten.)

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It’s been said that while on his trips to Canton Dean became good friends with Howqua, the chief merchant for the Chinese imperial Court at Canton (and at one point estimated to be the richest man in the world). Dean was presented with a portrait of Howqua and other captains were entrusted with caskets of special tea to bring to Dean even after he stopped sailing. There’s a family tale that Dean once brought his young son Abraham on a voyage. In Canton, Howqua walked into the Imperial walled court city with the boy. When they emerged Abraham was dressed in the traditional cheongsam of the ruling Mandarin class of the Qing Dynasty. There was even said to have been a painting of an American man and a boy hanging in the Howqua family royal apartments long after Howqua’s death.

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By 1805 it appears that Dean’s sailing days were over and he becomes a member of the Albany Common Council, still living on the edge of the Albany River basin next to Abraham Eights, along with their warehouses. By 1809 Dean had become one of the wealthiest men in city and moved to Arbor Hill (then mostly rural), but by 1820 he appears living back on North Market (Broadway) close to the River. For a while the Deans removed from Albany to live with a son in Lima, NY, just south of Rochester, but after the death of his wife Dean went to live in NYC with his daughter Margaret Sedgewick and her family. He died there in 1836.

In 1826 Dock Street would re-named to Dean Street in his honor. Dean St. ran south of and parallel to Broadway, just above the River, and once extended from about Steuben St. on the north to Hudson Ave. on the south. Today a little stub remains that extends from Maiden Lane, running behind the Federal Courthouse and the old Federal Building, opening into the SUNY plaza.

*The story of Dean’s adventure in the Caribbean was adapted by Catherine Maria Sedgewick in a “Tale of Perdita” from her book “Modern Chivalry”. Sedgewick was a cousin of Margaret’s husband, one of the first female American novelists and the most prolific (she’s sometimes called America’s Jane Austen). She started writing around 1820 and continued for the next 40 years. At one point she was engaged to be married to Albany’s own Harmanus Bleecker, but changed her mind and remained single to be able to write.

Julie O’Connor

“Hey, what’s the deal with the boulder in Albany’s Washington Park?”

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

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

3In summer 1777 British forces under Lt. Colonel Barry St. Leger were making their way east along the Mohawk Valley to join General Burgoyne coming down from the north – objective Albany. The British were making their way up the Hudson as well and there was no doubt Albany would be occupied by the British. It was only a matter of time. Albany was a strategic and tactical target. Albany, as the epicenter of the Northern Department of the Continental Army, was the site of military storehouses, warehouses, a powder house and armory. It was the staging area for all American troops in the Northern Department as well as the site of the military hospital (at Pine and Lodge). More importantly, occupation of the Hudson from Albany to New york City would give British control of New York State and separate New England (thought to be the heart of the resistance) from the other colonies – dividing the burgeoning Union.

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

The Best Laid Plans
6But the British plans fell apart west of Albany at Fort Stanwix* and the Battle of Oriskany. Fort Stanwix (known then as Fort Schuyler) was first surrounded by the British, Indians (lead by Joseph Brant) and Tory and Hessian contingents on August 3, 1777, when the Fort refused to surrender. Inside the Fort were American troops under Colonel Peter Gansevoort**. His second in command was Marinus Willett.

5

 

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

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

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

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

Victory!
So, the failure of St. Leger to bring additional troops to an already beleaguered Burgoyne led to his defeat less than 2 months later at the Battle of Saratoga (which saved Albany and changed the course of the Revolutionary War). Way to go Martinus!
.
Back to the Rock 
10And that is story of why we wanted to honor Col. Willett – his bravery was instrumental in saving Albany.

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

7We have never been able to figure why a rock as a monument (rocks are cheap?). We know there was a multi-year search across upstate for just the right rock, but we’re not sure why this particular rock was selected. (It may have come from the Oriskany battlefield, but we’re not sure.)

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

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

 

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

Willett Rock in Washington Park

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Here are the stories of some of those Albany residents…

Born Before The Revolution

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

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

Soldier of the Revolution

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

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

The Two Adam Blakes

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

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

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

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

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

The Riverboat Captain

Albany Rural Samuel Schuyler marker

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

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

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

A Physician and Inventor

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

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

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

 

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

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

Lost At Sea

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

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

A Civil War Veteran Honored

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

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

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

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

Others

Albany Rural marker Dick Slave of John Pruyn

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

A Presidential Postscript

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

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

Why is there a 3rd amendment to the Constitution? Albany (of course)

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Albany NY 1758

Why there is a 3rd Amendment to the Constitution.. the 4th Earl of Loudoun (and yet there is a Loudonville). Important enough to rank after religion and the right to bear arms, but before search and seizure and public trials, if u are keeping track. The Albany Dutch were a feisty lot.

The following is by Liz Covart, August 8, 2014 Journal of the American Revolution

THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION COMES TO ALBANY, NEW YORK, 1756-1776

he history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world…He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation: For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us.”–Declaration of Independence

On June 11, 1776, the Second Continental Congress appointed its Committee of Five to draft a declaration of independence from Great Britain. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston composed a document that proclaimed why the thirteen colonies had no other recourse but to separate from the British Empire. They declared that “The history of the present King of Great Britain [George III] is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states.” The committee added weight to the colonists’ claims by providing a long list of specific examples of the king’s injustices towards them. Among the enumerated grievances: King George III had given his “assent” “For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us.”[1]

The colonists experienced the king’s unjust quartering throughout the French and Indian War (1754-1763). It all started when John Campbell, Earl of Loudoun assumed command of the British forces in 1755. Loudoun lamented how the British soldiers had lost the 1755 campaign to the French because his predecessor William Shirley could not find winter quarters for them near the front lines. Loudoun sought to rectify this situation by ordering the governors of Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania to erect barracks in Boston, New York City, Albany, and Philadelphia. The governors either refused or informed Loudoun that their colonial assembly would provide only some of the funds needed to build barracks or rent rooms in inns and public houses within those cities. Eventually, each city built at least some of the barracks Loudoun had demanded, but only in Albany, New York did Loudoun resort to forcibly quartering his troops in private homes.[2]

Between 1754 and 1760, thousands of British soldiers, colonial officials, merchants, and camp followers made their way to and through Albany. The war proved to be both a profitable and an antagonistic experience for the Albanians. Albanians profited from the war both financially and via the opportunity to extend their patronage networks. Merchants, tavern keepers, artisans, and laborers furnished their visitors with supplies, housing, and services. Elites rubbed elbows with aristocratic British officers. The Albanians had expected to profit from the war, but they had not anticipated the adversarial politics of identity that the war brought out. Although the Albanians claimed to be Britons, their British guests recognized them only as foreigners, Dutch colonials. The British Army used this non-British view of the Albanians to justify their quartering practices. Many Albanians believed the army’s quartering practices had violated their constitutional rights as Britons and they reflected on this when it came time to choose their loyalties during the American Revolution. The Albanians’ disagreeable experiences with the British Army during the French and Indian War predisposed the community to side with, or at least not oppose, the Patriot cause.

Quatering

In late June 1756, the people of Albany, New York extended a warm welcome to the Earl of Loudoun. Loudoun had come to Albany to turn the French and Indian War in Great Britain’s favor. The Albanians also hoped that he would lessen their troubles with the drunken and disorderly soldiers who disrupted their community. If the Albanians’ welcome impressed Loudoun, he did not show it. Instead, he called the city magistrates to a meeting where he informed them that he had certain “powers” and that as a civilian body the Corporation would not always understand or like what he must order his army to do. Loudoun wasted little time in demonstrating his unpopular “powers.” Between 1756 and 1763, Loudoun and his successors forcibly quartered their soldiers in the Albanians’ private homes.[3]

The British Army began quartering on June 25, 1756. General James Abercomby asked the Common Council to find quarters for the 42nd Highland Regiment (the Black Watch). At first, the Albanians seemed happy to lodge the soldiers as “the great many [Highlanders] behaved Worthy to be called honest & reasonable Men.” However, the conduct of a few soldiers soon spoiled any pleasure the Albanians derived from assisting the army. Some of the quartered Scots “behaved like Brutes in Human Shape— by making horrible Noise in their room, Threatening to Oblidge People to Wait on them[,] rise at all times of the night and open their doors, Insisting on the second Best Bed In the house, Abusing & Destroying the furniture, Cou’d themselves in Eating furniture—this was the general Complaint.”[4] The Albanians wished to help the Army, but they no longer desired to share their homes with its soldiers.

Even Loudoun disliked quartering. He complained to friends and superiors that he faced opposition to quartering throughout the colonies. He also lamented that his need for quarters unduly taxed the Albanians’ means. In a letter to the Duke of Cumberland, Loudoun reported that the Albainans “really have hardly any more beds than they lay on themselves.” He assured the Duke that he was making the best of a bad situation, “in Albany, where I am obliged to Quarter more Troops than the People can support, or reasonably ought; I have taken nothing from the People but House room; and as they really have no Beds, I have given the Men Paliasses to lye on, and furnish them firing from the Magazines, at a rate of one fire to 20 Men, as they have in the Barracks; The Officers I have Given Money for their firing.” Loudoun also insisted on paying for his own lodgings.[5]

The Albanians resented quartering for reasons beyond the inconveniences of having to share their homes with strangers. They believed that the British Army had violated their constitutional rights with its practices; first by illegally applying the Mutiny Act of 1689 and second by using quartering as an illegal form of punishment. Anyone who displeased the army usually found more soldiers assigned to billet in their home.[6] The Albanians also realized that Loudoun justified his quartering policies based on his views of the Albanians as “Old dutch Inhabitants,” “Dutchmen,” or simply as “Dutch,” foreigners who were not entitled to the constitutional rights of Britons.

Quartering played a large role in why Albany became a Patriot stronghold. The military occupation of Albany during the French and Indian War showed the Albanians what close imperial rule might mean. The Army had effectively muted the Albanians’ political and legal voice. British officers had interfered with the governance of their community and their ability to conduct diplomacy with the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois peoples. The soldiers also brought drastic demographic and economic change to the community. The British Army’s victory over France redirected the center of the British North American fur trade to Montreal and positive experiences in America led many British soldiers and merchants to settle in both Albany and Albany County. The Albanians struggled to adapt their society to fit the new, post-war world. Although many enthusiastically embraced the opportunities the new British Empire had to offer, many more resisted and longed for a return to their mostly autonomous, pre-war ways. Their treatment in the past and their frustrations with the post-war present created a long, riotous period that led a majority of Albanians to embrace the American Revolution.

From Anger to Revolution

During the 1760s, the Albanians’ outrage with the British Army dovetailed with the broader colonial movement for equal subjectship. After the war the Albanians unleashed their pent-up frustration by participating in eight demonstrations against the Army and British authority. The riots began in May 1763, when the Common Council requested that the British Army remove all of its buildings from the city’s streets and “all spots of ground” where the inhabitants needed use of the land. Colonel John Bradstreet rebuffed this application.

Bradstreet’s refusal outraged many Albanians. The City of Albany had owned the land prior to the war. The Corporation had loaned the land to the Army to support the war effort. The Treaty of Paris 1763 had ended the war and the city not only wanted, but needed, its land back to support the post-war population boom.[7] Around May 23, 1763, Mayor Volckert P. Douw led a group of protestors to the Army storehouse where they pulled down its fence.[8] This action served as the first salvo in a five-year campaign to recover city lands and demonstrate frustration over British authority.

Between 1763 and 1767, Albanians participated in five “riots” or “mob actions” that tried to tear down dilapidated military buildings on city-owned property. Albanians also attacked members of the Army on two occasions in 1764. In the first incident, two intoxicated lieutenants attempted to gain entry into a house where “they had some Female Acquaintance.” A fight erupted when the woman called out to her neighbors for help. The situation devolved into a violent street brawl that involved at least a dozen grenadiers, several soldiers, and “a Mob of about 200 [Albanians].” Seven months later, two Albanians beat a sentry who disrespected them.[9]

By January 1766, it became clear to the Albanians that Britons throughout North America shared their frustrations with British authority. In 1764, Parliament began to tax the colonists to pay for their protection and for the French and Indian War. Many colonists argued that Parliament had illegally taxed them with its Sugar Act (1764), Stamp Act (1765), and Townshend Duties (1767) because the colonists did not have direct representation in that body. The Albanians disliked the taxation measures as well. They interpreted these measures as an indication that Parliament intended to rule the British colonies more directly than they had before the war.

In January 1766, the Albanians’ riots converged with the wider colonial movement against Parliamentary taxation. The Albanians combined their protestations against the British Army with their disapproval of Parliamentary taxation by rioting against the Stamp Act. For two days, the Albany Sons of Liberty hounded Henry Van Schaack based on rumors that he had applied for the position of Albany stamp distributor. At first, the protesters tried to intimidate Van Schaack with their number. They requested that Van Schaack appear before them in Thomas Williams’ tavern where nearly forty men greeted him. Although Van Schaack assured the gathering that “he never had apply’d for that office,” the assembled men insisted that he renounce the stamp distributorship and swear an oath that he would never apply for the position. When Van Schaack refused to take the oath, the Sons of Liberty honored their threat to destroy his property. In an effort to avoid the Sons’ threat to destroy his person, Van Schaack relented and took the oath.[10]

Why was Albany a Patriot Stronghold?

In 1767, the Albanians got what they wanted: Major General Thomas Gage ordered the Army to vacate Albany. For the first time in its history, Albany did not have a military force occupying it. However, after the army left, the Albanians found that they could not return to the pre-war past. Their society had changed and the imperial crisis continued to intensify.[11]

The escalation of the imperial crisis forced the Albanians to make a decision. Geography dictated, and history had demonstrated, that either a colonial or British army would occupy their city during a war. Negative experiences with the British Army during the previous war and Parliament’s post-war attempts to impose a stricter imperial rule predisposed a majority of Albanians to side with the Patriots.

Loyalism by the Numbers

Statistically, Albany stood as a Patriot stronghold. Between 1775 and 1781, the Albany Committee of Safety, the Schenectady Committee of Correspondence, and the Albany County Commissioners for Detecting and Defeating Conspiracies interviewed 2,057 suspected Loyalists. During that time, these boards found eighty-seven Loyalists living in the City of Albany; 4.2 percent of all persons accused of loyalty throughout Albany County. Of those eighty-seven only twenty-six turned out to be bona fide Loyalists. These numbers reflect that the committees investigated approximately 3 percent of Albanians for loyalism and that true loyalism accounted for just 0.87 percent of Albany’s population.[12]

Undoubtedly, many of the suspected Loyalists were actually people who tried not to choose sides. Men like Henry Van Schaack tried to remain neutral in an effort to keep their political and economic options open no matter which side won the war. Albany Patriots distrusted men like Van Schaack and kept a close watch on anyone who did not outwardly support their cause. According to Van Schaack, the Patriots deemed anyone with a “mere difference of political sentiment” as “disaffected.”

Van Schaack related the perils of trying to live in Albany as a neutral. He reported that the Committee of Safety fined, imprisoned, and banished any individual who spoke “disrespectfully of the Whigs in general,” “discouraging” or “unbecoming talk against the American cause,” “disapprobation of the measure they [the Whigs] were pursuing,” “diminutively” of the authority of the Committee, or those who refused to sign the General or Continental Association.[13] Residents of the City of Albany had to support the Patriots or adopt a quiet life devoid of vocal political opinion as tight quarters and the power of the Albany Committee made it easy to detect and punish Loyalists, or those who disapproved of the Patriots’ politics and actions.

Conclusion

Unable to return to their pre-war lives, many Albanians embraced the Revolution as an opportunity to create a new life. This “new” life looked slightly different for each Patriot. Men like Philip Schuyler supported the Revolution because they had lost their voice in the colonial assembly and they believed the Revolution would launch them into positions of greater power. Men like Abraham Yates Jr., used the Revolution as an opportunity to level political power between men of middling means and the elite. Men without political designs or ambitions looked upon the Revolution as a chance to help ensure that no Army ever forcibly quartered or dictated the governance of their community again. Although reasons for joining the Patriot cause differed for each Patriot, they all shared two common aspects: The Revolution offered Patriot Albanians the opportunity to vent their frustrations with the unexpected and drastic changes the French and Indian War had brought to their community. The Revolution also gave them the chance to affect social, political, and economic changes that they found more palatable.

[1] Second Continental Congress, “Declaration of Independence,” United States National Archives: Charters of Freedom, n.d., http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration.html.%5B2%5D Alan Rogers, Empire and Liberty: American Resistance to British Authority, 1755-1763 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974).[3]New York Public Library, Manuscripts and Archives Division, Astor, Lenox Tilden Foundation, Abraham Yates Jr., Papers, 1604-1825, “Journal,” (MssCol 3405), July 29, 1756; Fred Anderson,. Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766, First Vintage Books Edition, (New York: Vintage Books, 2001), 150-167; Daniel Marston, The French-Indian War, 1754-1760, Essential Histories 44, (New York: Osprey Publishing, 2002), 35-37; Ruth Sheppard, ed. Empires Collide: The French and Indian War 1754-63, (New York: Osprey Publishing, 2006), 84-89.[4] Abraham Yates’ description of “Cou’d themselves in Eating furniture” likely refers to the soldiers’ disruptive and destructive behavior. The soldiers placed demands on their hosts for food, drink, and better accommodations even when it fell to the army to supply those needs. In a different journal entry, Yates related how the soldiers’ disorderly behavior caused at least two Albany women to miscarry. NYPL, MAD, Astor, Lenox Tilden Foundation, Abraham Yates Jr., Papers, 1604-1825, “Journal,” (MssCol 3405), June 25, 1756; NYPL, MAD, Astor, Lenox Tilden Foundation, Abraham Yates Jr., Papers, 1604-1825, “Journal,” (MssCol 3405), June 27, 1756.[5] “Firing” refers to firewood. Loudoun conducted an extensive survey of all the houses in Albany and made note of how many fireplaces each home had. He used this information to billet his men. Huntington Library, Manuscripts and Special Collections, Loudoun Papers, “Earl of Loudoun to Duke of Cumberland,” (LO 2262), November 22, 1756.[6] In December 1757, Loudoun billeted an additional six soldiers, for a total of twelve, on Sheriff Abraham Yates Jr. As Sheriff, Yates felt duty bound to confront Loudoun and his officers when he found soldiers “kicking and abusing the Waggoners” and harassing their hosts. Moreover, Yates challenged the authority of Captain Christie. In October 1757, Christie ordered Yates to incarcerate Jacob Van Der Werkin. Yates refused to admit Van Der Werkin because Christie lacked a mittimus, or arrest warrant. Christie ordered his men to break into the jail and forcibly commit Van Der Werkin. Yates protested by taking the jailhouse keys and refusing to let the army use the jail until they either released Van Der Werkin or gave him due process. In retaliation for this insubordination, Loudoun billeted the extra men on Yates. NYPL, MAD, Astor, Lenox Tilden Foundation, Abraham Yates Jr., Papers, 1604-1825, “Journal,” (MssCol 3405), October 7, 1757; NYPL, MAD, Astor, Lenox Tilden Foundation, Abraham Yates Jr., Papers, 1604-1825, “Journal,” (MssCol 3405), December 24, 1757; NYPL, MAD, Astor, Lenox Tilden Foundation, Abraham Yates Jr., Papers, 1604-1825, “Journal,” (MssCol 3405), December 26, 1757.[7]The end of the war had caused a population boom in the City and County of Albany; the population of Albany County grew by 148 percent between 1754 and 1771 and the City of Albany felt its effects. David Arthur Armour, The Merchants of Albany, New York: 1686-1760, American Business History: A Garland Series of Outstanding Dissertations (New York & London: Garland Publishing, Inc, 1986).[8] American Antiquarian Society, Manuscripts, John Bradstreet Papers, “Draft of Letter to General Jeffery Amherst,” (MSS Bradstreet Papers), May 23, 1763; William G. Godfrey, Pursuit of Profit and Preferment in Colonial North America: John Bradstreet’s Quest (Waterloo, Ontario, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1982), 166-168.[9] Elizabeth M. Covart, “Collision on the Hudson: Identity, Migration, and the Improvement of Albany, New York, 1750-1830” (Dissertation, University of California, Davis, 2011), 94-107.[10] New-York Historical Society, Henry Van Schaack, “Narrative of Riotous behavior in Albany,” (John Tabor Kempe Papers), Box 12, Folder 2, January 18,1766; Beverly McAnear, “The Albany Stamp Act Riots,” The William and Mary Quarterly, 3, 4, no. 4 (October 1947): 486–98; Henry Cruger Van Schaack, Memoirs of the Life of Henry Van Schaack (Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Company, 1892).[11] Since its founding in 1614, Albany had been home to a garrison of troops. At first the troops served the Dutch West India Company. English soldiers replaced the Dutch soldiers after the English conquest of New Netherland in 1664. Both the Dutch and English troops protected their nation’s interest in the fur trade. Between 1664 and 1767, the soldiers who lived within the walls of Fort Orange and its successor Fort Frederick, represented a cross-cultural mixture of English, Scots, and colonial North American men, many of whom established roots within the Albany community. The thousands of soldiers who arrived at the start of the French and Indian War did not have roots in the community and they looked upon the people of Albany as colonials and Dutch foreigners. See Stanley McCrory Pargellis, “The Four Independent Companies of New York,” in Essays in Colonial History Presented to Charles McLean Andrews by His Students (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1931), 96–123.[12] Elizabeth M. Covart, “Collision on the Hudson: Identity, Migration, and the Improvement of Albany, New York, 1750-1830,” 108-136.[13] Henry Cruger Van Schaack, Memoirs of the Life of Henry Van Schaack, 67-68