Albany in the 1750s

In the middle of the 18th century Swedish naturalist Peter Kalm made a trip to America; in June 1749 he stayed at Albany, and wrote of his visit.

At this time Albany, although chartered as a city, was really just a large village of about 1,300 and perhaps 250 homes. It was an odd combination of sleepy rural village and frontier town; proper Dutch burghers, Indians and buckskin clad traders. Churches, taverns and trading posts seemed to have equal importance. Someone once said that when the Dutch of Albany weren’t in church, they worshipped the God of Commerce.

(Don’t be shocked. Albany was founded by a corporation, and then one man, The first Patroon – a diamond merchant – for the sole purpose of making money. Individual settlers may have come for other reasons, but it was established as an investment.)

Sweep away, if you can, every image of Albany you have today and try to imagine the Albany of over two centuries ago,

The City
Most of the inhabitants still lived within the stockade, although the population had begun to expand (mostly south) outside the fort’s walls about 20 years before. There were still block houses on the corners of the stockade.

The inhabited part of the city extended only a bit farther west than South Pearl St; beyond there was nothing except hills and deep forest. To the north lay the Patroon’s Manor (about where Tivoli St. is today), and then the Patroon’s Creek that cut through the deep gorge of Tivoli Hollow. Below that was the Foxenkill just inside the fort walls, slicing another gorge (which is Sheridan Hollow today). It was crossed by a bridge at North Pearl St.

The Ruttenkill flowed down from Lark St. between Hudson Ave. and State St. It created another deep ravine (filled in the 1800s) and in 1749 it was crossed by several bridges. To the south of the fort stockade were several new streets, extending to about Division St. Then came the Beaver Kill – it twisted south from what is now Western Ave. down through today’s Lincoln Park (creating the roiling and foamy Buttermilk Falls), then flowing into the river. Just above the Beaverkill was “the Pastures”, a communal grazing spot and an area with some small farms and gardens.

As Kalm sailed up the Hudson he noted many ships of all kinds and sizes sailing south to NYC loaded with wood, furs and grain.

The Cityscape
He found the houses within the stockade built close together, in the Dutch tradition, with large deep back gardens, cow sheds, chicken coops and fruit trees. “The houses are very neat.. some are slated with tiles from Holland.. most are built in the old way., with the gable-ends towards the street. The street doors are generally in the middle of the houses; and on both sides are seats.. In the evening these seats are covered by people of both sexes. but that’s rather troublesome, as those who pass by are obliged to greet everyone, unless they will shock the inhabitants with their impoliteness”.

Most house had wells, (there were public wells installed in each of the city’s 3 wards in the early 1700s), but water was taken from the Hudson for brewing and washing. It was placed in the cellar until the muddy “slime” sunk to the bottom.
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Kalm notes the streets were broad and some are paved; in some parts they’re lined with trees, but he says they’re very dirty because the people leave their cattle in them on summer nights.

Kalm says: “There are two churches in Albany, an English one and a Dutch one.” (Note: there was also a Lutheran Church in the southwest corner of the city.) “The Dutch Church stands some distance from the river on the east side of the market, and it has a small steeple with a bell… The English Church (St. Peter’s Church) is situated on the hill, at the west end of the market, directly under the fort… The Town Hall (called the Stadt Huys) lies to the southward of the Dutch Church, close by the river side. It is a fine building of stone, three stories high. It has a small tower.. with a bell and a gilt ball and a vane.” The street that goes between the 2 churches is five times broader than the others and serves as a market place “to which country people resort twice a week.

(Five years later Ben Franklin would come to the Stadt Huys and propose his “Albany Plan of Union”. In 1775 his Plan would form the basis for establishment of the Continental Congress, and later the Articles of Confederation, precursor to the US Constitution. Albany has some mighty fine history!!)

“The fort on a step hill is a building of stone surrounded with high thick walls. Its situation is very bad, as it can only serve to keep away of plundering parties” . (Given the high hills that surrounded it, they could be used for offensive purposes).

Although Kalm doesn’t describe other buildings in the city, but we know there was the Staats House on the southeast corner of State and South Pearl Streets, dating back to the 1660s. It was the Schuyler family manse where Philip Schuyler and Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton were born. Across the street was the “Vanderhuyden Palace”, built in 1725, on the corner of State and North Pearl Streets. On the corner of N. Pearl and Steuben, close to the stockade was a building known in the mid-1700s as a trading post and lodging house for Indians who came to trade.

Domestic Life
“The inhabitants of Albany are Dutch, they speak Dutch and their manners are Dutch”.

“The women are perfectly well acquainted with economy; they rise early, go to sleep late and are almost over nice and cleanly with regard to the floor, which is frequently scoured several times in the week. The servants in the town are chiefly Negroes.” *

The kitchens were the gathering places in most homes. The fire places were enormous; large enough to roast a whole cow. Larger homes had a “front room”. They drank mostly beer and water, sometimes tea; coffee not at home. We know every day meals were modest, but in great abundance – bread, cheese and butter, with salads and vegetables, and fowl and fish (Albany was known for its sturgeon – called “Albany Beef” – it fairly leaped out of the Hudson into fishing nets.)

Trade
Kalm noted the city was advantageous for trade. The quay (dock) was made sturdily to withstand winter ice and spring flooding, and the river was so deep ships could come close to shore.

Kalm notes “there is not a place in all the British colonies where such quantities of furs and skins are brought of the Indians, as at Albany”. He says most of the Albany’s merchants or their clerks traded with tribes at Oswego in the summer. “Indians are frequently cheated especially when they are in liquor” and received as little as 1/10 of the value of their goods. “The merchants of Albany glory in these tricks.”

Besides the trade at Oswego, Indians came to Albany, especially from Canada, since Canadian merchants used the Indians to smuggle the furs to Albany. They returned with goods that were cheaper in Albany- like wool and other cloth (flax) made on the estates of Albany merchants outside of the city. He noted many residents of Albany engaged in making wampum to trade with the Indians. And thus, Kalm concluded that that the devotion to making money, coupled with their innate frugality served to make many Albany residents very wealthy.

*Albany County had one of the largest enslaved population outside of the South. Slaves were first brought to Beverwyck in its earliest days- over a century before 1749. The labor of the enslaved was part of Albany’s economic engine that contributed to its wealth. In the city most of the enslaved were women and young boys and girls – at least 10% of the population in the mid-1700s. The estates and farms outside of the city owned by city merchants and burghers depended on adult male labor. As far as we know, unlike NYC, Albany had no central “slave market”. It’s likely there were mostly private sales and public sales took place in taverns or coffee houses.

Julie O’Connor

Margarita Schuyler: An American Lady

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Tucked in a corner of the Schuyler plot (Lot 66, Section 29) are a trio of table-style markers carved from brown sandstone. The inscription on one reads:

“Margarita Schuyler, 1701-1782, Wife of Colonel Philip Schuyler
of The Flatts. Known and esteemed in England and America through Mrs. Grant of Lagans “Memoirs of An American Lady.”

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The daughter of Albany mayor Johannes Schuyler, Margarita married her cousin, Colonel Phillipus Schuyler. The couple resided at The Flatts, the family farm located to the northeast of the present Rural Cemetery. They had no children and Col. Schuyler died in 1758.

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“Aunt” Schuyler, as she was called, remained a resident of The Flatts. Among the many relatives and friends who spent a considerable amount of time with her at The Flatts was her nephew, Philip Schuyler (Major General and father-in-law of Alexander Hamilton).

Anne McVickars Grant, the daughter of a Scottish army officer, spent part of her childhood at the Schuyler Flatts. Returning with her family to Scotland, she published an account of her time at The Flatts in 1808. The memoir provides invaluable firsthand details of life on the Schuyler estates and is a tribute to Margarita whom the author looked back on as “a most valued friend.” The full text can be read here: https://archive.org/details/memoirsanameric03grangoog

At the close of the French and Indian War, it was Madame Schuyler who persuaded local leaders to retrieve children of colonists taken by Native Americans during the conflict. Distraught parents came from as far away as New England and Pennsylvania to seek their missing children. Not all of the children were recovered, but the joy of the mothers who were reunited with their children was described as “overpowering.”

Madame Schuyler died at her Flatts home on August 28, 1782. Her grave in the little family burial ground near the house was not marked until all the graves were relocated from The Flatts to the Rural Cemetery in 1920. At that time, a proper headstone was placed over her remains. It can be found in a corner of the lot behind General Philip Schuyler’s granite column.

Re-discovering Sibbie: the Last Schuyler Slave

Paula S. Lemire, May 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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