Category Archives: Albany

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.

Thanksgiving, 1847: Albany Invents the Turkey Trot

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Thanksgiving, Albany, 1847Munsell’s “Annals of Albany” gives us this description of Thanksgiving in Albany, 1847:

[Nov.] 25. Thanksgiving day; dark and gloomy … A foot race at the Bull’s Head; principal competitors Steeprock and Smoke, two Indians: Smoke won the race by 50 yards, making 10 miles in 1h. 11s.; the track heavy after a rain; 500 spectators supposed to have been present … Brilliant northern light in the evening.

Bull's Head, AlbanyThe Bull’s Head, according to Phelps’s The Albany Hand-book, was the second site of Albany’s cattle market, coming after it moved from Washington Ave. (at Gallup’s, between Swan and Lark). It was north of the city on the Troy Road, and in the 1840s hosted the New York State Agricultural Society’s annual show, effectively the State Fair (which then rotated among cities); the site later became part of Mid-City. It featured a racing oval that was used in horse races and, at least on this particular Thanksgiving day, foot races.

There was also a Bull’s Head Tavern there for many years, at least through 1901, listed as opposite Garbrance Lane (now Simmons Lane). Much earlier, the Bull’s Head was run by Josiah Stanford. A biographer of his notable son, Leland Stanford, concludes that Lafayette was entertained by Stanford in 1824 or 1825, most likely at the Bull’s Head.



Where to find old Albany newspapers

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In the last couple of entries, we presented George Rogers Howell’s inventory of the papers that had been published in Albany up to the 1880s, and those that were still very much going concerns when he was writing his Bi-Centennial History of the County of Albany in 1886. Many of these newspapers (and others that Howell may not have included) are still available, in some form or another.

The New York State Library keeps a very helpful listing of all Albany County newspapers that are available on microfilm and paper throughout New York. If you’re looking for The Argus, you may well be in luck. The more obscure papers remain more obscure. The library’s listing is here.

The Library of Congress’s Chronicling America project is sadly short on digitized New York newspapers generally, and Albany papers are completely absent from its list. But if you’re researching elsewhere, it may be helpful; it’s here. However, if you just want some bibliographical information or are searching for locations that the State Library may not have covered, you can search the LOC’s entire database. It also includes some digitized forms that may not be publicly accessible but available to researchers (just to make sure the history doesn’t leak out).

Anyone who has been doing upstate New York historical or genealogical research in the past decade or more has likely been immeasurably aided not by a library or archive site, but by one determined man with a scanner and a will: Tom Tryniski’s has reached well past Fulton for many years, and is the premiere resource for a wide range of newspapers. Highly searchable, very well-scanned.

I’m reminded by a commenter below that there is the collection of New York State Historic Newspapers.

And for a very local view, if you’re interested in more recent events in Bethlehem, the Spotlight from that community is online.

The Albany Institute of History and Art has a collection of newspapers; I don’t know their rules for access, but the inventory is located here.

And of course there’s the Albany Public Library.

Albany Newspapers, 1886

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The Cultivator and Country GentlemanLast time around, we presented Howell’s catalog of major (and perhaps not so major) Albany newspapers going back to the very first in 1771. In his “Bi-centennial History of the County of Albany,” from 1886, he also described the then-current state of media affairs in the capital city:

Newspapers Published in Albany at the Present Time.

The Albany Argus made its first appearance on Tuesday, January 26, 1813. It was published semi-weekly; Jesse Buel, editor and owner. On August 18, 1825, it issued its first daily paper. The Daily Argus and The Albany Evening Atlas were united February 18, 1856, under the name of Atlas and Argus, with Calvert Comstock and William Cassidy, publishers and editors. On April 6, 1865, they were succeeded by William Cassidy. It became The Argus again, Monday, May 15, 1865. On May 6, 1865, The Argus Company was organized. William Cassidy, editor; Daniel Manning and J. Wesley Smith, associates. S.C. Hutchins and St. Clair McKelway have been recent editors. James H. Manning is present editor. Sunday paper issued since May 13, 1877. Argus Building, southwest corner of Broadway and Beaver street. [Still there, by the way.]

Albany Evening Journal. B.D. Packard & Co. published the first number of The Journal, March 22, 1830. It was a strong Anti-Masonic paper. Thurlow Weed was the editor for over thirty years, and rendered it highly influential over the entire State. George Dawson succeeded him as editor. Weed & Dawson Co. and Dawson & Co. have been publishers. The Albany Journal Company published its first copy under the editorship of John A. Sleicher, March 17, 1884, with W.J. Arkell as President; J.W. Drexel, Secretary; James Arkell, Treasurer. The printing-house and office are at No. 61 State street. [Later, the Albany Evening Journal would be headquartered in an ornate annex to the Delaware and Hudson Railroad Headquarters.]

Albany Evening Times, originally the Albany Morning Times, was started Monday, April 21, 1856, by Barnes & Godfrey; then published by Alfred Stone, David M. Barnes and Edward H. Boyd; later by Samuel Wilbor. March 1, 1861, the Times was consolidated with the Evening Courier, and was first issued as an evening paper September 25, 1865. Albany Weekly Times first appeared July 16, 1872. It was for a few years published by the Times Company. Since May, 1881, Theophilus C. Callicot has been the editor and proprietor, at No. 401 Broadway.

Albany Morning Express was started September 13, 1847. In 1854 it was published by Munsell & Co. In 1856 its name was changed to the Daily Statesman. The Express was revived by Stone & Henley, its original proprietors, May 4, 1857 with J.C. Cuyler, editor. In 1860, the publishers were Hunt & Co. Albany Weekly Express, issued August 4, 1881; Sunday edition, March 4, 1883. Albany Express Company: Edward Henley, J. C. Cuyler, Addison A. Keyes and Nathan D. Wendell. Printing-house, southwest corner Green and Beaver streets. A recent change has made Prof. Lewis, editor, and W.F. Hurcombe, publisher.

Daily Press and Knickerbocker. First number of Sunday Press, May 13, 1870; Daily Press, February 26, 1877; Daily Knickerbocker, September 4, 1843; Press and Knickerbocker united, August 10, 1877. The Weekly Press and Legislative Journal was issued for the first time, January 8, 1873. The Press Company is composed of John H. Farrell, Myron H. Rooker and James Macfarlane. Printing-house, 18 Beaver street.

Evening Post. First issued October, 1860, by R.M. & E. Griffin; editor, R.M. Griffin. Present publishers, M. & E. Griffin, No. 7 Hudson avenue.

Albany Evening Union. The Union Printing and Publishing Company first published this paper Monday, May 29, 1882, at their office in Beaver Block, South Pearl street. On Monday, July 16, 1883, John Parr became editor and proprietor, and published the paper from No. 28 Beaver street. Fred W. White is now president and editor.

Freie Blaetter, started by Henry Bender & August Miggael in 1852; now and for many years conducted by August Miggael at No. 26 Beaver street. German daily paper. Der Sontagsgast, issued since 1882 as a supplement to the Saturday edition. Office, No. 44 Beaver street.

Taglicher Albany Herald. This German daily was first published by Jacob Heinmiller, Tuesday, October 10, 1871; was issued as Der Albany Herold on February 11, 1869. The present office is at No. 87 Westerlo street.

The Cultivator and Country Gentleman, a weekly paper since January 4, 1866. As a monthly it was first published as the Cultivator, in March, 1834, and conducted by Jesse Buel, J.P. Beekman and J.D. Wasson. It was subsequently published by W. Gaylord & L. Tucker, and by L. Tucker & Son, who united it with The Country Gentleman, which was started by Luther Tucker and John T. Thomas, January 6, 1853. It is ably conducted by L.H. & G.M. Tucker, editors and proprietors.

The Catholic Telegraph, first issued in Albany, January, 1880. Telegraph Publishing Company was incorporated June, 1882. M.J. Ludden, editor.

The Guide, I.O.O.F. D.H. Turner, editor. First published, February 15, 1881. Issued every two weeks. D.H. Turner & G.B. Powers, publishers.

Albany Law Journal. Monthly. First number published January 9, 1870. Isaac Grant Thompson, editor; Weed, Parsons & Co., publishers, Nos. 39 and 41 Columbia street. Present editor, Irving Browne.

Our Work at Home. Monthly. Was first published at the rooms of the City Tract and Missionary Society, September, 1875. Charles Reynolds, editor. The present editor is George Sanderson, Jr. Office, No. 9 North Pearl street. It is the organ of the City Mission and Tract Society.

The Voice was first published as a monthly, January, 1879, at 401 Broadway. Edgar S. Werner, editor and proprietor, No. 59 Lancaster street.

Forest, Forge and Farm. Published in Albany since June, 1882. H.S. Quackenbush, editor and publisher, Tweddle Building.

Poultry Monthly. First issued by the Ferris Publishing Company, November, 1879. Office, 481 Broadway.

The Medical Annals was first published in January, 1883, by a Committee of Albany County Medical Society. Burdick & Taylor, 481 Broadway, are the present publishers. Dr. F.C. Curtis and others, editors.

Newspapers Published in Other Places in the County.


Coeymans Gazette; started in 1863 by Gilbert C. Vincent; sold to Willard Pond in 1864; then to Henry Brook; afterwards to McKee & Springstead. Professor Thomas McKee became sole editor and proprietor in December, 1869, and finally took it to Greenbush as the Rensselaer Gazette.

Coeymans Herald, weekly. S.H. & E.J. Sherman, editors and proprietors.


The Cohoes Advertiser; started in February, 1847, by Ayres & Co.

The Cohoes Journal and Advertiser succeeded the above in January, 1848; continued by same firm until January, 1849

The Cohoes Cataract succeeded the above; published by Silliman & Miller from June, 1849, to Sept ember, 1851; then sold to James H. Masten, who published it until January, 1867; then sold it to Anthony S. Baker, its publisher until January, 1870, when it was bought again by J.H. Masten.

Cohoes Daily News. J.H. Masten, proprietor.

Cohoes Regulator. Alexis Wager, publisher; weekly.

La Patrie Nouvelle. J.M. Authier, editor and publisher, weekly.

Green Island.

Green Island Review. Henry L. Gilbert, editor and proprietor; weekly.


Knowersville Gazette; a local weekly, recently published. [Knowersville is now known as Altamont.]


The Rural Folio, started in January, 1828, by C.G. & A. Polliner, and continued two years.

West Troy.

West Troy Advocate; started October, 1837, by William Hollands; continued by his widow and son, after his decease.

Watervliet Daily Democrat; started by Allen Carey, January 20, 1859.

Albany County Democrat; started in 1860. Allen Carey, editor; weekly.

Watervleit [sic] Journal. Treanor & Hardin, proprietors; weekly.

Shakers (P.O.)

Shaker Manifesto. Edited and published as a 4to [quarto] monthly, by Rev. G.A. Lomas.