Category Archives: Albany

And he shall be deemed the ferry-man

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We’ve been talking lately about the bridges, but they weren’t always there. A city by the river, in the days before bridges, very much relied on ferries for transportation. From the earliest days, Greenbush was an important adjunct to what became Albany, and the vast farmlands beyond Greenbush relied on ferries to access the important trading town. Ferry service between Albany and Greenbush was regulated under the laws of Albany, as published in 1800, which ordained that “every person who shall obtain a lease of the said ferry and be in the actual enjoyment thereof, shall be deemed the ferry-man.” Brilliant. The ferry-man was required to provide a bond to the city worth double the rent to be paid on the ferry, ferry house, and lot.

And be it further Ordained, That from and after the passing of this Law, the rates of ferriage across the Hudson’s river, between the limits of the city of Albany and Green-Bush, shall be as follows : that is to say,
1. For every person from the first day of November till the first day of May, two pence; and the remainder of the year one penny : Provided, that a sucking child and every other article not herein after rated, which a person holds and supports under his or her arms, shall be exempted from the payment of ferriage.
2. For every man and horse, or ox or cow, six pence.
3. For every hog, calf, sheep or lamb, one penny.
4. For every wagon and two horses or oxen, together with its loading, if the same remains in the wagon, and does not exceed, if of grain twenty bushels, and if of boards the number of forty, and if of plank the number of twenty-five, one shilling; and for every bushel more one penny, and for every board more a half penny, and for every plank more one penny.
5. For every team, cart or wagon with four horses or oxen, with or without its loading, two shillings; and for every additional ox or horse, six pence.
6. For every coach, coachee, chariot or phaeton, two shillings.
7. For every chair, chaise or sulkey and horse, one shilling.
8. For every chest or trunk, four pence.
9. For every full barrel, three pence.
10. For every pail of butter, one penny.
11. For every firkin or tub of butter, two pence.
12. For every bushel of grain, one penny.
13. For every hundred weight of unwrought metal, three pence; and in that proportion for a greater or less quantity.
14. For every hundred weight of beaver or other skins, four pence; and in like proportion for a greater or less quantity.
15. For every saddle if not on a horse, one penny.
16. For every dozen pair of boots or shoes, one penny; and in like proportion for a greater or less quantity.
17. For the stage carriage playing between the city of Albany and the city of New-York, and all other public stages, their drivers, horses, passengers and baggage, two shillings and six pence.

For all ferriage from one hour after sunset until day break, except for the New York stage carriage, rates were allowed to be doubled. The stage was to be given preference to “every other person, carriages or articles whatever, immediately upon their arrival at the said ferry, whether by night or by day; and that if the ferry-man shall neglect or refuse to convey the same across the said ferry without delay, he shall forfeit the sum of twenty shillings for every such neglect or refusal.”

The ferry-man was required to keep at least two boats and scows in good order and repair, to be constantly employed and worked, “wind and weather permitting, by able bodied men, at least, in the boats and scows from day-break to one hour after sun-set, in such manner as that one of the said two boats and scows, so employed as aforesaid, may as nearly as may be, constantly depart rom the two opposite shores of the river at the same time.” There was a five dollar fine for failing to run the boats and scows thusly; there was also a five dollar fine if he should be found to overcharge. No other boats or canoes were permitted to convey for hire or reward any person, carriage, horse, or other article across the river anywhere between the north and south boundaries of Albany. There was also a posting requirement:

And be it further Ordained, That the ferryman shall paste up on a board in some place on the east side of the road, and to the eastward of and opposite the ferry-house, a printed copy of this law, and shall from time to time, during the term for which he shall hold the said ferry, and during the times hereby limited for ferrying as aforesaid, keep the said copy fixed up as aforesaid.



The Albany-Greenbush Tunnel

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"There isn’t one automobile blocked on the bridge as the draw swings. That’s because all the vehicles are passing rapidly under the river. Above is a cross section view of one of the tunnel approaches. You spiral down to reach tunnel level and spiral upward to reach street level."

“There isn’t one automobile blocked on the bridge as the draw swings. That’s because all the vehicles are passing rapidly under the river. Above is a cross section view of one of the tunnel approaches. You spiral down to reach tunnel level and spiral upward to reach street level.”

Yesterday, in talking about plans to replace the old Greenbush Bridge, we noted the somewhat odd comments of Holland Tunnel designer Fred Williams, who had come to Albany to talk about how you should always think about a tunnel, but lamented that “This isn’t tunnel day.” Well, that wasn’t as random as it sounded – turns out, a tunnel had been seriously considered earlier that same year.

Yep. On Feb. 14, 1928, the Albany Evening News unveiled the first description of a proposed tunnel under the Hudson River between Albany and Rensselaer, proudly announcing “Albany – Rensselaer Project Will Introduce Maj. Hewes’ Spiral Staircase Approach – Nassau Architect to Show Drawings Thursday at Public Discussion of Plan in City Hall.”

The project provides for circular approaches, an engineering concept that may have profound effect on future tunnel construction. Traffic goes into and out of the tunnel by means of a spiral “staircase,” an expedient heretofore unthought of and which resulted from special study of landscape conditions prevailing here and in Rensselaer.
The idea originated with Major James E. Hewes, an engineer and former executive of the Eastern New York Utilities company. He is a member of the Albany-Rensselaer bridge committee, created to determine whether a new structure is needed between the two cities and what form that project should take.

There would be a public discussion of the plan at City Hall, with Nassau architect Herman Kobbe, who was associated with Hewes, to display “a series of water color and pen and ink pictures of the project.” It was confidently expressed that the total project, including land, dredging, the tunnel and ventilating systems would not exceed $5 million.

Location–The Albany terminal would be a few hundred feet north of the Greenbush bridge and would be situated in Riverside park extending from the river to Broadway. In Rensselaer the terminal would be directly in front of the Huyck mills with exit and entrances to Broadway.
These proposed terminals would serve not only to shelter the ramp approaches dipping into the earth but could be utilized for office, manufacturing or state and municipal requirements, according to Major Hewes. Because of the substantial foundations necessary for the ramps, a building of almost any height could be erected over them. The buildings would have an area of 300×300 feet each, providing 90,000 square feet of space to the floor. Major Hewes believes that each building could be made to provide an annual rental return of $200,000.
The Approaches–Entrance and exit of the terminal would be at street level. In order to forestall the danger of high water, with terminals built at the river brink, the street at that point would be elevated a few feet. This would make the top of the ramp at least four feet above the height of the highest water ever recorded here.
The ramps would be thirty-four feet wide of reinforced concrete construction. Two types of ramp construction are named. One provides for a ramp within a ramp. This would permit unobstructed passage for traffic descending to the tunnel, while traffic bound upward would travel the second ramp.
The other type of ramp provides for two distinct approaches, side by side. One for ascending, and the other for descending traffic.

Listen, we’re living in the 21st century. Ramps aren’t entirely a rarity. But in 1928? Not terribly common. They needed explanation.

An automobile entering the Albany terminal at street level would begin the descent to the tube at once. On the downward trip the motorist would make two complete circles before reaching the tunnel level. He would descend a total of 76.8 feet and would actually travel 1,920 feet over a four per cent grade, a trifle less sharp than the grade of the State street hill between James street and Pearl street.
The Tunnel–The tube itself would be 860 feet long. It might contain two roadways, one superimposed above the other with a four foot fill between. The idea here would be to divide east and west bound traffic, or to make both levels two way, and limit trucks and heavy vehicles to one level only. Another plan would provide but one roadway, resting on the bottom of the tunnel.

The article noted that the tunnel would be flat, not sloping like the recently completed Holland Tunnel; the tube would be 50 feet in diameter, steel reinforced concrete built near the site and then lowered into the river onto a dredged bed and joined, then covered so that it would have four feet of stone above it as protection against a boat sinking and coming to rest on top of the tube. Major Hewes was confident the whole thing could be put in place in less than two years, and that at no time would the work interfere with navigation. Maybe so. We never found out.

Time for a new bridge to Greenbush – or maybe not.

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The old Greenbush bridge in the foreground was replaced by the Dunn Memorial Bridge in 1933. But a new bridge was not a foregone conclusion.

The old Greenbush bridge in the foreground was replaced by the Dunn Memorial Bridge in 1933. But a new bridge was not a foregone conclusion.

Is anything ever simple around here? No, it is not. So, while it took years to get agreement to build the first bridge between Albany and Greenbush, the only bridge that carried automobiles across the river below Troy, you would think that when it came time to replace it, it would be relatively simple. It was not.

In August of 1927, the Albany Evening News reported on a plan to replace the Greenbush bridge with a new span, reporting that

Albany business and professional men are thoroughly aroused … to the insufficiency of the Greenbush bridge. Many visiting motorists, after once negotiating the structure enroute to Albany, have declared to hotel men they would rather skirt the city than again meet delays incident to crossing the only bridge entering Albany. Merchants declare trucking costs are higher and delay in deliveries across the river frequent, as the result of traffic jams and stoppage of traffic due to passing ships.
“The Greenbush bridge, designed to accommodate leisurely, horse drawn vehicles, resembles nothing much better than a cow path in the light of modern bridge engineering,” [Chamber of Commerce President Westcott] Burlingame said. “Actually the old Greenbush bridge appears to be shrinking As motor traffic increases and the old structure creaks and groans under the pounding of automobiles, trucks, buses and trolleys, all striving to squeeze through two narrow lanes, I really believe the sides contract. Every time I cross the bridge it seems the lane has become smaller and the curbs closer.”

James Gheen, secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, pointed out the importance of the crossing:

“North of Peekskill there is no bridge spanning the Hudson river until you strike the Greenbush bridge at Albany. Motorists travel along the river for miles, headed for the bridge. And when they get there perhaps a boat is passing and the draw is open, delaying motor traffic. Or there is the usual congestion of vehicles at several periods in the day. The motorist tarries impatiently. Queer greeting to hold him off as long as possible, he thinks. He wants speedy access to this destination. The Greenbush bridge doesn’t permit that to the visitor from the country east of the Hudson river. The bridge is one of our gateways. I believe in building a new gateway across the Hudson. We need it.”

The News of December 2, 1927 reported that the plan to replace the old bridge with a new bridge was actually opposed by leaders from the other side of the river, in a hearing held by a special committee of the Albany Chamber of Commerce to probe the bridge situation and seek relief from traffic congestion on the bridge.

“A delegation of business men from Rensselaer led the fight to keep the present bridge and received unexpected support from a Castleton delegation, which expressed itself in favor of the present bridge, to be augmented, however, by a new high level bridge at Castleton.
Points made by the proponents of the present bridge are that the structure is still suitable for use and could be made efficient by raising it, using the upper deck as another traffic lane and installing a new bascule type draw.
The Castleton delegation pointed out that while the Greenbush bridge is really a necessity for communication between Albany and Rensselaer, natural advantages pointed to the Castleton site for a new high level bridge.”

A group of Rensselaer businessmen said the existing bridge could be repaired, that the approaches could be widened and ramps erected to provide a traffic lane on the upper part of the bridge (which originally was meant to carry a rail line that never materialized). The state engineer of bridges and crossings, Harvey Schermerhorn called that an impossibility that would cost more than building a new bridge.

Someone by the name of Captain Ulster Davis (perhaps a river captain?) believed that draw openings could be expedited and the old bridge used for years if a bascule lift draw were installed in place of the swing span. “He said he had seen lift draws that could operate in sixteen seconds.” A designer of the Holland Tunnel, Fred Williams, was in attendance, and made a snide response to a colleague, “We’d like to see one of those sixteen second lift draws, wouldn’t we, Davis? We tried to design some that would work that fast but never succeeded.” He proceeded to note that it would be impossible to build a new lift span into the existing bridge, and wouldn’t be able to allow traffic in the meantime. In fact, the Dunn Memorial Bridge, which replaced the Greenbush in 1933, would be a lift bridge.

Reading between the lines, Williams’s presence must have indicated at least some consideration of a tunnel option. Either that or he ran around the country opining about tunnels. “I haven’t much to say today. This isn’t tunnel day. But I do want to say that although a tunnel is always feasible where a river crossing is wanted, it is not always the best thing. Whether a tunnel would serve the best purpose in this case, I can’t say now.” Good thing it wasn’t tunnel day.

“No figures of probable cost for revamping the bridge were presented by those who hope to convince the bridge committee that the Greenbush structure could easily be made adequate. No traffic figures were presented by those aspiring for a new bridge to convince the committee that the Greenbush bridge is a back number, a nuisance to highway traffic and a menace to navigation.”

Eventually, the decision to build a new bridge would be made, but again, there would be controversy. We’ll get into that anon.

From Hearses to Ambulances: Albany Motor Renting Corp.

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1920 Albany Directory Funerals by Automobile

In case you were wondering when funerals by automobile became possible in the “Capitol” District – it would appear that the answer is 1920, which is when the Albany Motor Renting Corporation was formed (president: Spero Loscaris) and this ad appeared in the Albany City Directory. Its 56 South Ferry Street location, where they also sold Socony gasoline, is now merely a parking lot; 46 State Street is an older, not terribly noticeable building that currently houses Cook’s Cafe.  They apparently succeeded a company named Allen & Arnink Auto Renting Company. Presumably, hearses weren’t all they rented, as they also show up in county records as having provided auto service for the Board of Elections in 1920, and even in Albany, the dead voters don’t require transportation.

albany motor garage - hearses and limousines 1920s lancaster st albany nyThe company also later owned a large garage that still stands on Lancaster Street, and rented hearses, limousines, and regular old cars. In 1953, the company branched out considerably, focusing less on the dead and more on the not-quite dead by getting into the ambulance business:

Ambulance service calls from the Albany Police Department will be handled by Albany Motor Renting Corporation from its garage at 166-168 Lancaster St., on a per-call basis, Mayor Corning said today.

The firm which rents hearses and drive-yourself cars asked the city for the opportunity to provide the service, and informed the Mayor, after a meeting of its directors yesterday that one ambulance would be ready for service tomorrow. A second ambulance will be added soon, the Mayor said he was informed.

Two-way police radios will be used in the ambulances. The service is strictly a private one, the Mayor said. The city pays for emergency calls at the rate of $15 a call. Welfare case calls are paid by the Albany County Welfare Department. There is no contract between the city and Albany Motor Renting Corporation.

In 1969 they were still renting out of the Lancaster Street garage. As late as 1973, Rensselaer contracted with the company to provide ambulance service.

Albany’s Lancaster School

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Albany's Lancaster School on Eagle Street

Recently we wrote about Schenectady’s Lancaster School, which pretty much controlled the shape of what would be thought of as public education in that city in the early 19th century. Schenectady wasn’t the only area city that signed on to the Lancasterian fad, which applied some definite ideas about how students were to be taught and used those who had already been taught to instruct their juniors, an efficiency that allowed them to employ a minimal amount of teaching staff while instructing large numbers. In fact, Albany had a Lancaster School several years earlier.

According to the 1829 report of the Trustees of the Albany Lancaster School Society, the Albany Lancaster School was first established by the corporation of the city of Albany in October 1811, with an annual appropriation of $400. The directors of the school were incorporated by legislation in 1812, and a provision of the common school act that was passed that year assigned state school money appropriated to the city directly to the trustees of the Lancaster School, “with a view to ‘the education of such poor children belonging to the city, as shall be, in the opinion of the trustees, entitled to gratuitous education.’ In addition to the general Lancaster school, a part of the above fund was appropriated in 1820, for the support of a school ‘for the education of poor children of colour.’”

The report also said that trustees of the Albany Academy would admit a certain number of pupils from the Lancaster School to gratuitous instruction in the higher branches of education, “as a reward of superior merit.”

Horatio Gates Spafford (the father of a somewhat more famous Horatio Gates Spafford) put out “The American Magazine, A Monthly Miscellany,” in which he provided a summary of the Lancaster School in his April 1816 edition.

The Albany Lancaster-School, has been in operation about five years. It has been taught, hitherto, in a room of 40 feet by 28, yet so fitted up, as to receive 200 scholars;–and it has never had less than that number. Since its commencement, 1100 have enjoyed the benefits of the Institution. Here have been taught Spelling, Reading, Writing, Ciphering, Geography, English Grammar, composition and Elocution, in the style of the best Academies of Europe. When the Teacher, Mr. W.A. Tweed Dale, arrived in this country, he was introduced to the Hon. De Witt Clinton, who having become acquainted with his character and abilities, wrote to Gen. S. Van Rensselaer; in consequence of which he was invited to Albany by the Corporation of this city, and engaged by them for six months. This led to the formation and incorporation of the Lancaster-School-Society; with a permanent appropriation of that proportion of the Common School-fund, which belongs to the City of Albany. The Corporation of the City also, appropriated $500 annually, beside a donation of 800 to defray the expense of fitting up the School-Room, &c.; resolving at the same time, to build a suitable School-House. And when we consider the large numbers that have been taught on this plan, at a comparatively small expense, and also the tendency of the system to form virtuous citizens, by training up the youth in habits of order and method; by habituating them to the discharge of relative and social duties; and in short, by introducing them in the business of real life; who can attempt to calculate the importance of this Institution to our City.

Spafford noted that Mr, W.A. Tweed Dale had come from the original school of Joseph Lancaster in England, and that he had added improvements of his own and others, “too numerous to be mentioned in this place.” He focused on the physical layout of the schoolrooms, which were an important feature of the Lancaster system.

The elevation of the desks, places every scholar in the most distinct and conspicuous point of view for the Teacher; while his Desk, placed so as to present nearly an equal space in front, and on each hand, affords the greatest facility in his communication with the whole school. The entrance for the boys, being at one end of the building, and that for the girls, at the opposite end, two schools, entirely distinct and separate may be taught in the same room. The apartments under the desks, will be of the greatest utility for this purpose, both before and between the hours of instruction. In these, those who come from a distance, may remain and recreate themselves, without injuring the furniture of the School-room; and neither sex will be seen or heard by the other. During School hours, these rooms may be used for recitation, and a portion of each as a ward-robe.

We shall only mention one improvement in the mode of teaching: this is Silent Dictation. Instead of having the words spelled aloud to each class, to be written on slate; they are pointed out by a Monitor, on a printed alphabet, in written letters. This is done without interrupting any classes that may have been called out to read, or cipher aloud, and without being interrupted by them. These may profitably join in concert, however, when the words that have been written on slate are spelled aloud. Thus all the school may spell the same word, at the same time: This is done after the word has been pronounced, syllabically, without repeating the syllables, but merely by calling the letters distinctly, and pausing a little between the syllables; – a method at once pleasing and instructive. Mr. Dale, the Teacher of this School, is probably as well qualified for his Task as any other, in any similar school in America ….”

Noting that the building had been designed by Albany’s most important architect of the era, Philip Hooker, Gates gave us a thorough description of the building that would later be the first home of the Albany Medical College:

The Lancaster School House, now erecting in the city of Albany, is situated on the west side of Eagle Street, a little south of the Capitol. It is a neat, plain brick Edifice, 100 feet in length, and fifty feet in width, with a small wing at each end for stair cases.

The first floor will contain a vestibule, hall, and stair case, and a room for the Trustees; in the centre and on one side, a room of 47 by 35 feet, for public meetings – and on the other, convenient apartments for the Teacher’s residence.

The second floor is the school room, 97 feet in length, 47 feet in width, and 21 feet in height. It includes the two upper tier of windows. The Teacher’s desk is placed in the centre, against the front wall, and elevated about 2 feet from the floor. The desks and seats for the scholars are ranged on each side, parallel with the end walls; – each rising one foot above the other, as in a church gallery: each stage 3 1-2 feet, gives room for a desk, seat, and narrow aisle between the seat and the next desk.

Opposite the Teacher’s desk, against the rear wall, a stage is elevated on pillars, with steps to ascend to the same, which is also fitted up with desks and seats, for such scholars as the Teacher shall think proper to honor with a seat there, as a reward for their assiduity ,and to excite emulation. There are rooms of 47 by 17 feet, at each end, under the aforesaid gallery, besides four lumber rooms under the front part of the gallery.

The annexed plate [the illustration above] is a Geometrical Elevation of the front, drawn to a scale of 20 feet to an inch. In this representation the front wall, to the right, from the water-table to the cornice, is supposed to be removed, in order to exhibit a view of the interior structure, with the elevation of the desks, seats, &c. in the School Room.

Schenectady’s Lancaster School lasted until about 1850 or so, when free public schools were established in the State. If Albany’s continued on, it had to have been at another location, as this building became the first home of Albany Medical College in 1839.

The Colonial Governors of New York: The Good, the Bad, the Seditious

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Jacob Leisler

Statue of Jacob Leisler in New Rochelle, NY, by Anthony22 at the English language Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

Last time around we discussed George Rogers Howell’s comprehensive and descriptive list of the English colonial governors of New York, from his Bi-Centennial History of the County of Albany, 1886. He elaborated on some of his brief tabular descriptions with some more detailed evaluations of the shortcomings of several of the governors, whom Howell notes “were often recalled on account of manifest incompetency or glaring dishonesty and fraud.” He held Albany and its citizens apart, saying “it is easy to see what Albany thought of these matters by the class of men put forward to direct public affairs at home, or to represent them in the Assemblies when they were allowed. Though generally loyal subjects of the government, at the same time they were friends of popular representation and the advancement of the true interests of the colony.”

Howell writes that at the end of Dutch rule, the English who resided in New York City were tired of the stubborn tyranny of inflexible Dutch Governor Peter Stuyvesant, and expected some of the liberties allowed in New England under Governor Nicolls. Apparently they were disappointed, but Howell describes Nicolls’ administration as “mild,” and notes that “he did not impair the city liberties of Albany, nor interfere with its trade. After its peaceable surrender, September 24, 1664, things went on as usual . . . It was decided that the Dutch patents must be renewed as invalid, bringing wealth to the Governor by his enormous fees for granting new titles.”

Of Francis Lovelace, who followed Nicolls, the same could not be said. “The odious Lovelace listened to nothing asked by the people. He told them that their business was to work and pay their taxes. He ordered their remonstrance to be burned by the common hangman.” Then came the brief period when the Dutch retook the colony, with Anthony Colve as Director-General. It lasted a bit more than a year; when peace was declared between Holland and England, New Netherlands was again given over to the British, and Edmund Andros was named governor, an office he served on three non-successive occasions. The “hated tyrant,” as Howell called him, “held sway over a colony of unsubmissive subjects. He filled his position as Governor about five years and a half in all, and never secured confidence and respect.” While governing from New York, he did visit Albany, usually in connection with Indian affairs (at which some writers find him quite deft). In 1676, he had a new stockade fort built

near the present site of St. Peter’s Church, so as to defend and command the whole town of Albany. It had four bastions and room for twenty-four guns. It was occupied in June, in command of Captain Sylvester Salisbury. During his time he was frequently called upon in settling church difficulties at Albany, and settling Indian questions, which he generally adjusted acceptably. Andros was loyal to his king, but oppressive. In 1689, he was arrested in Boston by the people, confined in the fort, and his under officers shipped to England.

More on that soon. After Andros’s first term, it was under Thomas Dongan that government really started to form.

Dongan called the first representative Assembly, which met at Fort James, October 17, 1683. The names of the two members from Albany and two from Rensselaerwyck are not known. This Assembly adopted a charter of liberties, and divided the province into counties, as stated in another part of this volume. During his time, the claim of the Patroon over the territory of Albany, neglected by Andros, was adjusted amicably and wisely, and Albany received its city charter July 22, 1686 … Dongan, though not in sympathy in religious views with a majority of the people, was a man of moderation and gentle manners, and attended faithfully to the interests of the colony in the matters of the French, who were still endeavoring, by religious influence, to seduce the Mohawks. He visited the new city several times, and advanced its policy by good counsel and good appointments. There was some feeling against him, chiefly on account of his religion, at a time of less liberality than now. [Now being 1886.]

Then came the abdication of King James II, the ascension of William and Mary in a “glorious revolution,” and the huge controversy occasioned by the assumption of power by Jacob Leisler. This occasioned a crisis in the colony and in Albany, and inflamed tensions with the frontier town of Schenectady. Leisler, who while in Albany had made an enemy of Rev. Nicholas van Rensselaer (and lost a lawsuit with him over a matter of theology), was appointed a commissioner of the court of admiralty in New York by Dongan, and captain of a military company in New York City when Lieutenant Governor Francis Nicholson took command of the colony while Governor Edmund Andros was in Maine and Massachusetts dealing with colonial aggressions against Indian tribes. There was a bit of a religious divide in the colony at the time, given that the revolution of William and Mary was not being reflected by changes in New York society and offices. Leisler was a populist, and popular, and when it was learned that Governor Edmund Andros had been imprisoned in Boston, supporters of Leisler took control of Fort James at the tip of Manhattan on May 31, 1689, renamed it Fort William, and said they would hold it until a new governor appointed by William arrived.

They sent for Leisler, who at first refused to lead them but then acceded. A committee of safety was formed, with a provisional government with Leisler in charge as captain of the fort. In June, Nicholson left for London, for his own safety. The mayor of New York and others moved to Albany, which held out against Leisler’s authority. To add to the already tense relationship between the two towns, Schenectady was home to a strong pro-Leisler sentiment. In November of 1689, Leisler sent an armed force to Albany to assist in defense against potential Indian attacks, on the condition of Albany accepting Leisler’s authority. The offer was not accepted. Three months later, the French and Indians massacred and burned Schenectady; soon after Albany accepted Leisler’s authority.

Howell was clearly a fan of Leisler:

The assumption of authority by Jacob leisler, a merchant and militia captain of New York City, made much trouble in Albany. He held his position with the approval of the people. The aristocracy were opposed to him as a Commander-in-Chief of the Province. He was acting governor for the time. Lieutenant-Governor Nicholson had gone to England, and the colony had no governor. Leisler may have been ambitious, but he was honest and patriotic. He was brave and popular. It was his purpose to give up the trust committed him by the people as soon as a Governor appointed by William and Mary should reach New York.
Meanwhile he proffered aid to protect the frontiers at Albany and Schenectady, now in danger of invasion from the French and Indians, and claimed possession of the fort at Albany and recognition of his right to command. He sent his son-in-law, Jacob Milborne, to persuade the people of Albany to yield to Leisler’s government. Some of the people looked favorably upon the matter. But the city government regarded the course of Leisler and Milborne as without authority of William and Mary, and therefore seditious. The Mayor, Peter Schuyler, took charge of the fort, and successfully resisted all attempts of Milborne and his troops, who had been sent up from New York for that purpose, to take possession of it. The citizens were divided in their sympathies. They sent for aid to Connecticut, and aid came; to Massachusetts, and they were advised to yield to Leisler and have peace. This they did, because of their fear, especially after the burning of Schenectady, of invasion and devastation.

It didn’t end well for Leisler. Governor Sloughter arrived with a commission from the crown on March 19, 1691.

Leisler readily yielded the authority, claimed as from the people. He was no usurper. But the aristocratic haters of popular rule were not satisfied. They caused the immediate arrest of Leisler and Milborne, and had them cast in prison, tried and convicted on the charge of treason. Sloughter, during a drunken debauch, signed the sentence of execution, and they were hanged May 16, 1691. History writes the actors in this malicious murder as traitors against freedom and humanity.

Howell had worse things to say about the next governor. He said that Fletcher was one of the most arrogant and covetous governors, who “visited Albany as most of the Governors did, to display his authority . . . Boastful of military skill, he was cowardly and imbecile in action. A hater of all religion, he was a professed Episcopalian, and made himself odious by an endeavor to make it the only sect recognized by the State and supported by general tax.”

Next, the Earl of Bellmont’s brief terms “were those of judicious management.” Lord Cornbury “left a record of unscrupulous villainy and licentiousness that puts his name in lasting contempt.” Governors Hunter and Burnet were better received, but William Cosby “was narrow in his prejudices and a petty tyrant. The famous Zenger libel case occurred in his time, in 1734.”

Howell went on. More tomorrow.

English Colonial Governors of New York: A Rogue’s Gallery

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Howell, in his “Bi-Centennial History of the County of Albany,” gave us an excruciatingly detailed listing of the English colonial governors of New York, running from Richard Nicolls in 1664 to the final military governor, Andrew Elliott, in 1783. We’re sure there are some stories to look at here (for instance, how many times could Cadwallader Colden serve as governor?), but what makes this list invaluable and amusing is Howell’s description of the character of nearly every one of the men who served as governor. Where someone served more than once, as happened more than once, he went to the effort to provide a different description of his character for each term.

We have, partly in order to save space, given the [below] tabular history of the Colonial Governors. Dates often conflicting have been written down from sources considered most reliable. So far as Albany County is concerned, there is little more to be said about them. The official residence was in New York City, and they seldom came to Albany except for a recreation trip, or for making a show of their importance, and to receive demonstrative recognition from the well-to-do and loyal people of the second city in their government. Good policy made it best for them, sometimes, to meet the Indians here in council, to make presents and have a good talk with them. They came with pomp, dressed in blue and gold trimmed coats, with gold-laced hats and showy ruffles. They expected processions and feastings, and every demonstration of joy and respect from the people. Policy granted as much; but sensible men were glad when it was over and expenses paid.

These men were usually of intemperate and licentious habits; of weak or mediocre talents; given to their appetite; ruled by their mistresses and favorites. Dissolute in morals, they were often broken down in strength. They gave formal attention to the religion of the Church which best pleased the King.

They generally had no interest in the welfare of the people. All were foreign born; most of them incompetent pets or members of the English aristocracy. Penniless, useless and dependent at home, they were sent abroad to get rich by robbing the people, and to serve the King – whose sycophants they were – in any way to please him and aggrandize themselves. They sought to associate with themselves the wealthy and influential, from whom they received adulation and flattery, in order to secure favors in petty offices, sensual pleasures and land grants. They kept aloof as much as possible from the toiling people, and asked of them only taxes to pay exorbitant salaries and carry out selfish schemes.

Just in case you wondered where Howell, writing in 1886, was coming from, he did go on:

Most were interested specially in making land grants, because most productive of wealth. No industries were encouraged. Rents were fluctuating; lands were at low value; trade was paralyzed; taxes high and oppressive during most of these years. The official terms of most of these governors were short, and marked by few incidents of importance as proceeding from them. They were often recalled on account of manifest incompetency or glaring dishonesty and fraud. In vain the public, as they gladly saw the departure of a ruling governor, hoped that the next would be a wiser and better man.

So, from the time of the surrender of the Dutch in 1664, with the ousting of the “stubborn tyranny of the inflexible old Governor” Peter Stuyvesant, we had this impressive list of the haughty and insolent, the arbitrary and odious:

English Colonial Governors of New York

NameService BeganTime of Service
(Y - M - D)
Nicolls, RichardSept. 8, 16643 years, 11 months, 9 daysColonelMild and prudent.
Lovelace, FrancisAug. 17, 16684 - 11 - 25Sir, ColonelArbitrary and oppressive.
Evertse, Cornelis
Bencker, Jacob
Aug. 12, 16730 - 1 - 7Council of War
Calve, AnthonySept. 19, 16731 - 1 - 21Director-GeneralPrudent and energetic.
Andros, EdmundNov. 10, 16743 - 0 - 6Sir, KnightArbitrary and odious.
Brockholles, AnthonyNov. 16, 16770 - 8 - 21Military Commander
Andros, EdmundAug. 7, 16782 - 5 - 6Sir, KnightA hated tyrant.
Brockholles, AnthonyJan. 13, 16812 - 7 - 14Captain
Dongan, ThomasAug. 27, 16834 - 11 - 14ColonelLiberal and politic.
Andros, EdmundAug. 11, 16880 - 1 - 28Sir, KnightArrogant and selfish.
Nicholson, FrancisOct. 9, 16880 - 7 - 24MajorBrave, irascible, loose morals.
Leisler, JacobJune 3, 16891 - 9 - 16MerchantBold, honest and earnest.
Sloughter, HenryMarch 19, 16910 - 4 - 7ColonelIntemperate and licentious.
Ingoldsby, RichardJuly 26, 16911 - 1 - 4MajorHaughty and insolent.
Fletcher, BenjaminAug. 30, 16925 - 7 - 13 Military OfficerBigoted, weak, covetous and corrupt.
Coote, RichardApril 13, 16981 - 1 - 4Earl of BellomontEnergetic and discreet.
Nanlan, JohnMay 17, 16991 - 2 - 7
Coote, RichardJuly 24, 17000 - 7 - 11Earl of BellomontA worthy officer.
Smith, William
De Peyster, Abraham
Schuyler, Peter
March 5, 17010 - 2 - 4Councilor(s)Wise and true; friends of the people of the Colony.
Nanlan, JohnMay 19, 17010 - 11 - 14Lieutenant-Governor
Hyde, EdwardMay 3, 17026 - 7 - 15Lord CornburyHaughty, vicious, intolerant.
Lovelace, JohnDec. 18, 17080 - 4 - 18Love LovelaceWeak and inactive.
Schuyler, PeterMay 6, 17090 - 0 - 3CouncilorA true patriot.
Ingoldsby, RichardMay 9, 17090 - 0 - 16MajorArrogant and exacting.
Schuyler, PeterMay 25, 17090 - 0 - 6ColonelVigilant and trusty.
Ingoldsby, RichardJune 1, 17090 - 10 - 9Major
Beeckman, GerardusApril 10, 17100 - 2 - 4Councilor
Hunter, RobertJune 14, 17109 - 0 - 7GeneralLiberal and just.
Schuyler, PeterJune 21, 17191 - 2 - 26CouncilorJudicious and equitable.
Burnet, WilliamSept. 17, 17207 - 6 - 28
Montgomerie, JohnApril 15, 17283 - 2 - 16Vain and useless.
Van Dam, RipJuly 1, 17311 - 1 - 0CouncilorUpright and trustworthy.
Cosby, WilliamAug. 1, 17323 - 7 - 9ColonelUniversally detested.
Clarke, GeorgeMarch 10, 17360 - 7 - 20
Clarke, GeorgeOct. 30, 17366 - 10 - 2
Clinton, GeorgeSept. 2, 174310 - 1 - 8AdmiralUnreliable and unpopular.
Osborne, DanversOct. 10, 17530 - 0 - 2Sir, BaronetCommitted suicide.
De Lancey, JamesOct. 12, 17531 - 10 - 21LawyerDecided and energetic.
Hardy, CharlesSept. 3, 17551 - 9 - 0Sir, Knight
De Lancey, JamesJune 3, 17573 - 2 - 1LawyerLoyal and influential.
Colden, CadwalladerAug. 4, 17601 - 0 - 4Scientific, unpopular.
Colden, CadwalladerAug. 8, 17610 - 2 - 18Honest, impolitic
Monckton, RobertOct. 26, 17610 - 0 - 22General
Colden, CadwalladerNov. 18, 17610 - 7 - 22Loyal, not popular.
Monckton, RobertJune 14, 17621 - 0 - 14
Colden, CadwalladerJune 28, 17632 - 4 - 15Learned, not gracious.
Moore, HenryNov. 13, 17653 - 9 - 29Sir, BaronetGenial and incompetent.
Tryon, WilliamJuly 9, 17712 - 8 - 28Loyal, but not popular.
Colden, CadwalladerApril 7, 17741 - 2 - 21Learned, esteemed, but hated.
Tryon, WilliamJune 28, 17754 - 8 - 25Respected, but not loved.
Robertson, JamesMarch 23, 17803 - 0 - 24Military Governor
Elliott, AndrewApril 17, 17830 - 7 - 8Military GovernorAmiable

The Peculiar Institution

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The Duke de la Rochefoucauld, an exile from revolutionary France who seemed to have a genuine appreciation for the post-revolutionary United States, was, as a foreign visitor, sometimes blunt in his assessments of what was going on. He found the inhabitants of Albany “extremely dull and melancholy,” and despite praising the hospitality of his host John Schuyler in Schuylerville, he called the son of the General indolent for his choice to sell hay rather than using it for cattle. But because of his status as an outsider, he gives us one of the few contemporary views, albeit a brief one, of the “peculiar institution” of slavery, which was more prevalent than we like to remember in the Capital District and was certainly a fixture in the lives of all the leading families. This is what little he had to say on that:

Labourers may be procured here in great abundance; their wages are three shillings a day, if they be wanted; but the usual daily labour is performed by negroes, who are very numerous, so that there is scarcely a house without one or two of them; John Schuyler keeps seven. The negroes, it is generally asserted, enjoy more happiness, as slaves, than if they were free. This might be the case, if liberty were bestowed on them, without their knowing what to do with it. But upon the whole, such maxims of morality fall with an ill-grace from the lips of a free people. The negroes, it is true, are kindly used in the state of New York; but it is also true, that, the convenience of having them constantly at hand for any work set apart, the labour of white people is less expensive, than that of negroes. To keep slaves is, therefore, a bad system, even in this point of view.

He spoke much more of slavery in his travels, though not of that in the Albany area. When he was writing, it was possible but by no means certain that the slave trade would end in 1808, the earliest date allowed by the Constitution. The Slave Trade Act of 1794 took the first step toward getting the United States out of slavery, and Rochefoucauld wrote at a time when there was still resistance.

There are some ships from Providence engaged in the accursed traffic of negroes, in contempt of the orders of Congress, by which it has been forbidden. The merchants concerned in this trade persuade themselves, that Congress cannot alter the constitution; and therefore think, that in spite of whatever Congress shall order, they may continue the slave-trade till 1808, the year fixed in the Constitution for its final cessation. They allege farther, that every state possesses a right to decide for itself in regard to this traffic; and that the state of Rhode-Island has not, as yet, made any enactment against it. They therefore purchase negroes, and carry them to sale in Georgia, where there is no prohibition of any sort against the trade. Nearly twenty ships from the harbours of the United States are employed in the importation of negroes to Georgia, and to the West-India isles.

I am surprised, that, while there is so strong and general a disapprobation of this whole trade, and while it is in such direct contradiction to the spirit of freedom, and to the predominant sentiments throughout America, Congress should neglect to interpose, and entirely suppress it here. I was informed, that this is about to happen ….

In Rhode Island, Rochefoucauld noted that “negroes are almost the only servants to be seen.” In Connecticut, servitude had not been abolished, as it had been in Massachusetts; “It is here ordained by law, that every negro born in the state since the year 1784, shall, at the age of twenty-one years, be declared free.” He spoke of this transition to freedom, which was considered as respect for property, to be “flagrant injustice … The case of Massachusetts, which in respect to slavery, stood in the same situation with Connecticut, and in which there were, at the time of the general emancipation, a greater number of negroes in servitude, sufficiently evinces the futility of this pretence.”

The community have there experienced no unfortunate consequences from the emancipation of the negroes. Few of these have made any criminal abuse of their liberty. Neither robbery nor murder is more frequent than before. Almost all the emancipated negroes remain in the condition of servants; as they cannot enjoy ther freedom, without earning means for their subsistence. Some of them have settled, in a small way, as artisans or husbandmen. Their number is, on the whole, greatly diminished. And on this account, the advocates for slavery maintain, that the negroes of Massachusetts have not been made, in any degree, happier by their general emancipation. None of them has, however, returned into servitude in those states in which slavery is still suffered by the laws. None has died of want. Massachusetts has delivered itself from the dishonor of the most odious of all violations of the natural liberty and the inextinguishable rights of the human species.

Want to read the rest of Rochefoucauld’s travels? There’s a Google for that. This all came from Volume II. There are others.

Albany, 1795: “They live retired in their houses with their wives”

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As we were discussing yesterday, in 1800, François Alexandre Frédéric de La Rochefoucauld, under the title of Duke de La Rochefoucauld Liancourt, published his Travels through the United States of North America, the Country of the Iroquois, and Upper Canada, In the Years 1795, 1796, and 1797. Albany came up a few times.

After talking quite a bit about the state of shipping in Albany in the mid 1790s, Rochefoucauld gives a general description of the old city of Albany:

Albany contains six thousand inhabitants, two thousand of whom are slaves, as the laws of the State of New York permit slavery. The old houses are built in the Dutch style, with the gable-end to the street; the pyramidal part rising in steps, and terminating in a chimney decorated with figures, or in some iron puppets. All the buildings, which have been erected within these last ten years, are constructed of bricks in the English style, wide and large.

The revenue of the city amounts to about thirty-five thousand dollars a year. It possesses a great quantity of land in the neighbouring country, and also sells the quays on the river at two dollars and half per foot, and a ground-rent of one shilling, which is irredeemable. This revenue is partly owing to the economy of the administrators, who have hitherto endeavoured rather to enrich the city than to embellish it, and render it more convenient. The Senate is, at present, composed of young men, who promise to take care of these articles. But, from the ignorance, apathy, and antiquated ideas, which prevail in this city, it is much to be apprehended, lest the results of their exertions should prove but very trifling for a long time to come. I almost incline to think, that young people here are old born.

A bank, which was instituted here four years ago, promotes the trade of Albany; it consists of six hundred shares of four hundred dollars each, only half of which have hitherto been paid. The yearly dividend is nine per cent, besides what is deducted for the expence of the building in which the bank is kept.

There is in Albany a Dutch Lutheran church of a Gothic and very peculiar construction; the Episcopalians, Presbyterians, German Protestants, and Methodists, possess also churches in this town.

The price of land, in the vicinity of Albany, is from sixty-three to seventy-five dollars per acre. Some lands near the river are still dearer. These are remarkably good; but those, which are situated more backwards, are but of a middling quality. Agriculture is not attended to with peculiar care; the farms lie half in grass and half in corn. No country had ever stronger incitements to perfect its agriculture and industry; for none was ever furnished with outlets more safe and less expensive.

Some manufactories have been established at a small distance from the town, among which is a glass-house, in which both window glass and bottles are made. The former is pretty smooth, and the manufactory is carried on with much activity. Mr. Caldhowell [James Caldwell] possesses also near the town extensive works, where tobacco, mustard, starch, and cocoa-mills, are turned by water, and even every accessory labour is performed by the aid of water machinery. The tobacco-mill is the most important part of these works; about one hundred and fifty thousand pounds are yearly manufactured.

The Duke goes on to relate how when Caldwell’s works burned down in July 1794, both his friends and the state legislature stepped up with assistance to ensure he could rebuild, and that volunteer labor helped to rebuild his works, which employed fifty persons at the time, “some of whom receive one hundred dollars a year; children, nine years old, can earn from six shillings to one dollar a week.” He goes on to note that elsewhere there were tanning yards, corn, oil, paper and fulling-mills, where common day-laborers could receive four shillings and sixpence per day, and up to seven shillings in harvest season.

The Duke, who was of course in exile from post-Revolution France, seems not to have been a fan of the denizens of Albany. While having nothing but good to say about the Schuylers and Van Rensselaers, who no doubt hosted him during his journey, his views of the average citizens is in line with what others observed from the time:

Hospitality to strangers seems not to be a prominent feature in the character of the inhabitants of Albany; the few, with whom we got acquainted, looked extremely dull and melancholy. They live retired in their houses with their wives, who sometimes are pretty, but rather aukward in their manners; and with whom their husband scarcely exchange thirty words a day, although they never address them but with the introductory appellation of “my love.” Exceptions, undoubtedly, exist in regard to the charms of the ladies, as well as to the conduct and conversation of the husbands; but, it is asserted, they are very few.


Albany Shipping, 1795

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François XII de La Rochefoucauld (1747-1827)Around 1800, François Alexandre Frédéric de La Rochefoucauld, under the title of Duke de La Rochefoucauld Liancourt, published his Travels through the United States of North America, the Country of the Iroquois, and Upper Canada, In the Years 1795, 1796, and 1797. In it, the Duke devoted substantial coverage to Albany.

The Duke had, it must be said, something of a shipping fetish. In writing of Albany, he noted that the history of the city occurs in all descriptions of the United States, so he chose to skip over it, but noted the extensive shipping trade.

Ships of eighty tons burthen sail up to the town; and the trade is carried on in vessels of this size. A sort of sand-bank, three miles below Albany, renders the navigation rather difficult; yet it is easily cleared with the assistance of pilots acquainted with it, and no ship arrives without one of them on board. This impediment, it is asserted, might easily be removed at a trifling expence; and ships of a much larger size might then anchor near the city.

He wrote that the trade of Albany was chiefly the produce of the Mohawk country, as well as articles of trade from Vermont and New Hampshire. He noted that the exports chiefly consisted of timber and lumber of every sort, potatoes, potash and pearl-ashes, grain, and manufactured goods.

These articles are, most of them, transported to Albany in winter on sledges, housed by the merchants, and by them successively transmitted to New York, where they are either sold for bills on England, or exchanged for English goods, which are in return sent from Albany to the provinces, whence the articles for exportation were drawn. Business is, therefore, carried on entirely with ready money, and especially in regard to pot-ash; not even the most substantial bills are accepted in payment.

Somewhat contradicting his earlier estimate of ship size, he reports that:

The trade of Albany is carried on in ninety vessels, forty-five of which belong to inhabitants of the town, and the rest to New York or other places. They are in general of seventy tons burthen, and make upon the average ten voyages a year, which, on computing the freights outwards and homewards, produces a total of one hundred and twenty-six thousand tons of shipping for the trade of Albany. Every ship is navigated by four men; the master is paid twenty dollars a month, if he have no share in the ship, the mate fifteen, and a seaman nine. There is also generally a cabin-boy on board, or more frequently a cook, as few ships have less than eight passengers on board, either coming up or going down. The freight of goods is usually one shilling a hundred weight; but this varies, according to their value, or the room they occupy.

The trade of Albany is very safe, but seems not to be very profitable. The neat proceeds of a voyage amount upon an average to about one hundred dollars, which makes for the whole year one thousand dollars for a ship, a profit by no means considerable. If you add to this the money paid by passengers for their passage, which amounts to ten shillings a head, making from seventeen to twenty dollars a voyage, and from one hundred seventy to two hundred dollars for the ten voyages, which are made in the course of the year, the whole yields but a very moderate profit, which is however increased by the sale of the goods. This is as yet the usual way in which trade is carried on by this city; it deprives the merchants of Albany of a considerable profit, and throws it into the hands of those of New York. Some of the former undertake indeed voyages to England, Holland, and other countries; but, for this purpose they charter New York vessels. These are the bolder people; and are called men of the new notions, but their number is small.

He noted that there were several areas where Albanians were missing the boat, so to speak. They failed to sail directly to Europe, which would have cut out the middle-man of New York and busied the ships when the river navigation was iced up. They failed to trade horses and mules, while Connecticut merchants were doing a thriving business exporting them to the Antilles. He warned that two newer towns were threatening to take over Albany’s role despite being somewhat further away, having shallower water and smaller ships. Those towns were New City (now Lansingburgh) and Troy.

New City contains about sixty or seventy stores or shops, and Troy fifty or sixty. These new-settled merchants all prosper, and their number is daily increasing. The merchants of Albany, it is reported, view this growing prosperity of their neighbours with an evil eye, and consider it as an encroachment upon their native rights. If this be true, the jealousy of the merchants of Albany must be the result of their ignorance and confined views.