Category Archives: Albany

Last of the Cocked Hats

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Market Street.png

“We pass the residence of Dr. Samuel Stringer, of the revolution, still remaining in the block on the west side of Broadway below Steuben, but somewhat disguised by modern changes. This was the first house in which white marble was used for sills and caps for windows.Adjoining his office on the south, dwelt Gen. John H. Wendell, of the revolution. These two veterans adhered to the costume of the olden time till their decease, the latter being the last of the cocked hats, in 1832.

This part of Handelaer street, that is, Merchant’s or Trader’s street, came to be called Market street about 1790, when a market-house was built in the centre of it below Maiden lane. Noticing trifles as we proceed, I will mention that this market was removed to a vacant lot behind the old Lutheran church, now forming the corner of Howard and William streets, where it was long famous as Cassidy’s and Friedenreich’s market, but more significantly termed the Fly market, and still stands there, in the guise of an oyster shop and a sample room — an institution unknown to the ouders under that name.”

— Joel Munsell, Men and Things in Albany Two Centuries Ago, 1876

Lines in Favor of Building the Albany and Susquehanna Railroad

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English: Albany - Susquehanna Railroad Delmar ...

English: Albany – Susquehanna Railroad Delmar Station, (Town of Bethlehem, New York). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Albany was the hub of commerce, connecting the great markets of Montreal, Boston and New York to the heartland and the new West, being able to get your goods to our ancient city was highly important. Connection to the major railroads or the Erie Canal was critical. What is now the Interstate 88 corridor, the areas of Cobleskill, Oneonta, and beyond, suffered for a very long time from lack of access to urban markets, being a long way off the canal or the railways that followed it. Finally came the Albany-Susquehanna Railroad, which connected the Schoharie valley to the capital in 1863, and just a few years later reached Binghamton. Like all great (and most non-great) railroads, it inspired a fair amount of prose over the years, including a 1903 volume by Harley Dana Tuttle, who bestowed posterity with “Stray Poems and Early History of the Albany and Susquehanna Railroad.” Noting the struggle for approval of the railroad in the first place, in 1856 Cobleskill’s Tuttle wrote many, many “Lines in Favor of Building the Albany and Susquehanna Railroad,” of which these are only the last:

Close at our backs we’ll have the west,
With all its verdure richly dressed;
New York and Boston at our feet,
And Albany we’ll hourly greet.
Thus joined unto the business world,
Progression’s flag will be unfurled;
And men will prize the railroad’s sway
That now upbraid its cause today.
How shall we do it? some may ask,
And ’tis indeed a heavy task.
Go, sirs, and sign the railroad bill,
It will not cause you any ill;
But then some say it is not just
That they be taxed to raise the “dust,”
While yet they are in truth confessing
The road would be to them a blessing.
Why then not pay your honest part,
And do it with a cheerful heart?
But if there is a single soul
So lost to reason’s right control,
As not to prize a railroad’s sway,
To him I would most humbly say,
Go seek some dark sequestered glade,
Beneath some lonely mountain’s shade,
And with some moss beneath your head,
Make beech leaves answer for your bed.
Rest on, ye sloths! in quiet sleep,
While tree toads ’round you vigil keep!

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The Dutch Church burying yard

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Three who diedOnce again relying on Joel Munsell’s wonderful 1876 “Men and Things in Albany Two Centuries Ago,” Hoxsie has to share a description of the graveyard originally associated with the old Dutch Church:

“Bodies were allowed to be buried under the church in consideration of the payment of a sum for the privilege. There was at first a grave-yard in the street, adjoining the church on the west, and when the lot on which the Middle Dutch church now stands was appropriated for a cemetery, the bodies under the church were not all removed, it may be inferred, for in digging a trench on the north side of State street last year, it perforated the old foundation still remaining there, and human bones were thrown out. The dead were borne on the shoulders of men from the church to the cemetery on Beaver street. Although a trite subject to many of you, I will venture to mention that in process of time this ground on Beaver street was completely buried over, when a foot of sand was added to the surface, and a new tier of coffins placed upon the first, each coffin required to be square, and to be placed against the previous one. The ancient denizens of the city still repose there in three layers, and I wish every one of their descendants could be thoroughly imbued with a filial sentiment of the impropriety, to say the least, of ever parting with that ground; but that the church edifice now standing upon it might be preserved as a monument to the venerated dead beneath. The bones of Anneke Janse being supposed to rest there, and so great a multitude claiming descent from her, and large expectations from her estate being so general, what adverse influence might arise from a mercenary alienation of those bones, should give us pause!”

(Note: photograph is from St. George’s Episcopal Church in Schenectady. Not Albany, and not Dutch.)

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Burying a pauper

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First Church, Albany

First Church, Albany (Photo credit: carljohnson)

In old Albany, the Dutch Church was the primary provider of social services to the needy of the community, including tending to the care of the poor. Joel Munsell preserved the record of the burial of Ryseck Swart, a pauper in the church’s care:

“I can’t refrain from giving an instance of the expense of burying a church pauper. On the 15th of February, 1700, Ryseck, widow of Gerrit Swart, the last survivor of the church poor at that date, died and was buried on the 17th, the expenses of which are copied from the deacon’s book. It is entered in Dutch, but I think you will be content with English: Three dry boards for the coffin, 7 guilders 10 stuivers; 3/4 lb. nails, 1g. 10s.; making the coffin, 24g.; cartage, 10s.; a half vat and an anker* of good beer 27g.; one gallon of rum, 21g.; 6 gall. Madeira for women and men, 84g.; sugar and spices, 5g.; 150 sugar cakes, 15g.; tobacco and pipes, 4g.10s.; digging the grave, 30g.; use of the pall, 12g.; inviting to the funeral, 12g.; Mary Lookermans was paid 6g. for assistance at the burial, and Marritje Lieverse for nursing 39g. Total 289 g., or $115.60. The expenses of maintaining this person four years had been 2,229 guilders 10 stuyvers.

*An anker was 10 gallons, and a half vat about 11 gallons. Good beer was strong beer, ale. A guilder was nearly 40 cts. and a stuyver was nearly 2cts.

Apparently little expense was spared, at least in the celebratory aspects of the funeral service . . . beer, rum, and port, not to mention sugar cakes and tobacco. It’s often said that the funeral is more about the living than the dead.

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More from inside the Dutch Church

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No drawings of the interior of Albany’s original Dutch Church exist. Historian-publisher Joel Munsell once had a plan of the interior, but he neglected to print it and all we have now is his description, which continues:

“I have a plan of the interior of the church, the ground floor taken from a pen drawing of the slips . . . It is seen from this that the bell was run in the middle aisle, and that the stoves were placed on a level with the galleries, supported on posts, and that the smoke pipes went out through the wall. The last of the sextons in this church was Cornelis Van Schaick. Having finished ringing the bell he tied the bell rope around the post, placed in the aisle for the purpose, and went up into the galleries to inspect his fires. He clambered over the front of the galleries, and, having filled the stove with wood, closed the door with such unconscious force as to produce a tremendous bang.

“The fronts of the galleries were studded with nails, upon which the occupants of the seats hung their hats . . . it presented a novelty to the stranger which was rendered the more picturesque and attractive by the variety of their style, color and condition. The roof was ceiled upon the rafters with boards, from the walls to the cupola, and a chandelier supplied with candles was suspended in the centre. The windows were in the style of what is now termed French, that is in two frames opening laterally on hinges; and were composed of smaller compartments or sashes, containing twelve panes each, representing the name and family arms of the person at whose expense it was placed there — the glass stained by a process said to be lost. The panes were about five inches square, and so little care was taken of these family escutcheons when the church was removed in 1806, that but four of them are known to have come down to our time entire . . . .

“The accompanying engraving of the window of Philip Schuyler, shows the style of all of them, except that it omits the division marks into 12 panes.”

Inside the Dutch Church

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The Dutch Church.png

The original Dutch Church sat at the foot of Albany’s State Street where it meets what is now Broadway. In fact, it sat in the middle of the street.  Every image of the exterior is based on the same original image, which was drawn from memory after the building was gone. Joel Munsell gives this description of the interior:

“We are now prepared to enter the church and inspect its interior. The porch was on the south side, and the ancient stepping stone was retained in its original position half a century after the church was removed, serving to point out the precise spot of the entrance to the vestibule, the wear of the footsteps of several generations in passing to their devotions having given it a peculiar conformation. Tenants of the opposite buildings watched it for many years with pious care when the pavement was being repaired; but when they had passed away, some one lacking knowledge insisted that it was wrongly placed and induced the paver to remove it to the centre of the street, after which it was thrown out altogether and lost to the antiquary. The church stood so nearly across the street, that only a cart-way remained on either side. In length it extended east and west.

“On entering the audience room, the pulpit was observed on the north side, octagonal in form, barely large enough for one to speak in, having a bracket in front on which was placed an hour-glass to measure the length of the pastor’s discourse. It served the two edifices a hundred and fifty years, and is still preserved. The seats were slips after the modern churches, but instead of sitting in families, each sitter had an appropriate seat and cushion, which seat was occupied during life, and afterward transferred to the nearest of kin, on payment by the latter of a fee for the transfer. The seats accommodated 611 women, who occupied the entire body pews of the church, and there was an elevated bench extending around the wall, which afforded seats for seventy-nine men. This was the entire capacity of the church until galleries were added at a later day.

“It is traditional that when there was danger of invasion, the men sat with their guns by their sides, wearing their hats and muffs, and smoking their pipes during the sermon. The walls were perforated near the top, with loop halls for the use of musketry. To this vigilance the inhabitants owed their immunity from invasion, for the city was never beleaguered by any foe.”

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Pemberton’s grocery

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Pembertons corner of columbia street.jpgAnother view, this one photographic, of the house built by the father of Col. Lansing at the corner of North Pearl and Columbia streets. Diana Waite says it was at the northeast corner, which would put it where the Bayou is in the Brewster Building today, and that it may have even predated the Lansings. Jacob Lansing was a baker and a silversmith who may have done his smithing in this building. (Waite has another excellent photo of it from the Columbia Street side.) In 1824 Lansing’s great grandson sold it to Ebenezer Pemberton, who ran it as a grocery store.

George Rogers Howell says that “the antique building on the corner of Columbia and North Pearl streets, which was built in 1710, was occupied by a Mr. McPherson as a grocery store prior to 1818, when it was sold to the Pemberton Brothers — Eben, Henry S. and John — and shortly after opened by them as a grocery store. The business established by these brothers, then mere boys, was continued until 1830, when only Eben and John were interested in it. In 1859 Eben died, from which time it was conducted by John Pemberton, who died in 1885, and at the time of his death was the oldest merchant in Albany in active business.” The building survived until 1893, when it was torn down for an expansion of the Albany Business College, in what is labeled the Brewster Building (but at the time of its construction around 1887 was called the Pemberton Building, and was owned by Widow Pemberton).

Waite gives some excellent architectural detail: “The parapet gable facade on Columbia Street had fleur-de-lis iron beam anchors that held the brick wall to a timber frame. The brick, laid in Dutch cross bond, formed a zigzag pattern called vlechtwerk (wicker work) along the upper edges of the gable.”

Joel Munsell also placed the house on that corner, and ascribed it to Chancellor Lansing, “who was mayor of Albany from 1786 to 1790.” Originally just outside the city gate, “it was especially distinguished as the lodging place for the Indians when they came to Albany for the purpose of trading their furs, too often for rum and worthless ornaments. There many stirring scenes transpired, when the Indians held their powwows, and became uproarious under the influence of strong drink. The house has survived the general sweep of so called improvement. It is now [1867] owned by John Pemberton, and is occupied as a grocery and provision store.”

Thanks to the “Albany…The Way It Was” Facebook group for an 1886 letter to the editor: “It is probable that in a few years the Pemberton…corner will succumb to the march of improvement, and the searchers after the ‘Crow feet Gables’ and antique houses and half doors will look in vain for a single representative left. Something should be done to restore, reproduce or rebuild for the generations to follow these fast disappearing relics of the past.”

 

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Built a crooked house. . .

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Pemberton House 1710.png“Outside of the stockades north on the line with Pearl street, was erected in 1710, by the father of Col. Jacob Lansing of the revolution, the house still standing there, and known as the Pemberton house, on the corner of Columbia street. This house was so constructed that no two adjoining rooms were on the same level, but on stepping out of one room into another it was necessary to ascend or descend two or three steps to the next. The ceilings were not lath-and-plastered, but the beams and sleepers were polished and waxed, and the jambs of the fire places were faced with porcelain, ornamented with scripture scenes. The same peculiarity may be seen in the construction of the floors of the Staats house, now the corner of State and South Pearl streets.”

— Joel Munsell, Men and Things in Albany Two Centuries Ago, 1876

 

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Speaking of John Jay

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In 1778, in the heat of the American Revolution, John Jay was New York’s Chief Justice of the Council of Safety, responsible for framing the Constitution of the State and for developing a new form of government to replace colonial rule. When the Legislature was going to be summoned to convene in Kingston that August, Jay’s biographer George Bellew wrote,

“It is curious to notice, in the light of subsequent history, that Jay ‘casually hinted at holding the first session of the legislature at Albany,’ but found ‘a general disinclination to it.’ ‘Some object,’ he wrote to [Gen.] Schuyler, ‘to the expense of living there, as most intolerable, and others say that, should Albany succeed in having both the great officers, the next step will be to make it the capital of the State.'” The British burned Kingston in October, 1777, and Jay removed the state’s nascent Supreme Court (as it was known then) to Albany, well distant from his farm in Fishkill. “In those days the inconveniences of life were many even for a judge at Albany. ‘Had it not been for fish,’ according to Jay, ‘the people of this town would have suffered for want of food, occasioned by the refusal of the farmers to sell at the stipulated prices.'”

The objection would remain for some time, but eventually Jay’s hint came to fruition. The rest of government moved around among Albany, Kingston, Hurley, Poughkeepsie and even New York, until Albany was named the state capital in 1797, with the first meeting of the Legislature in its permanent home in 1798. John Jay was the state’s second Governor then, and took up residence at 66-68 State Street.

Yellow Fever and Thanksgiving

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Portrait of John Jay

Portrait of John Jay (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

New York State’s first Thanksgiving proclamation came about, not  in remembrance of the Pilgrims, but in relief over the passing of an epidemic of yellow fever. And it was controversial even then.

John Jay was the first Chief Justice of the United States (among many other things), but he gave up that seat when elected Governor of New York (in absentia; he was in Britain at the time) in 1795. That autumn, yellow fever broke out in New York City. Now known to be a viral infection spread by mosquitoes, it was then little understood, but known to be contagious and carried by commerce. Tar was burned in the streets, in belief it would purify. Governor Jay proclaimed that vessels from the West Indies must be held at Governor’s Island until they were certified free of the disease. The Governor of Pennsylvania forbid “all intercourse” between Philadelphia and New York for a month. Although previous epidemics were far worse in terms of death, this one led significant segments of the population to leave the city, in a general sense of panic. Rotting fruits, carcasses and even cotton were pulled from stores and burned in the belief they could spread the disease.

Once cold set in, the fever abated (as we now know, because the mosquitoes become dormant). Governor Jay issued a proclamation declaring Thursday, November 26, a day for “his fellow citizens throughout the State to unite in public thanksgiving to that Being through whose Providence the ravages of the yellow fever had been stayed.” (As Chief Justice, Jay had presided over only four cases; none of them had to do with separation of church and state.) This was met with strident criticism by stalwarts of the Democratic party, who saw it as typical Federalist expansion of executive powers. William Jay’s “The Life of John Jay” explains that in New England, such days of thanksgiving had long been customary and were provided for in law; but in New York, such days had never been appointed by civil authority, and the law and the new constitution (which John Jay drafted) made no such provision.

Jay anticipated the objections in his proclamation:

“Whether the governor of this State is vested with authority to appoint a day for this purpose, and to require and enjoin the observance of it, is a question which, circumstanced as it is, I consider as being more proper for the Legislature than for me to decide. But as the people of the State have constituted me their chief magistrate, and being perfectly convinced that national prosperity depends, and ought to depend, on national gratitude and obedience to the Supreme Ruler of all nations, I think it proper to recommend, and I therefore do earnestly recommend to the clergy and others of my fellow-citizens throughout this State to set apart Thursday, the 26th November, instant, for the purposes aforesaid, and to observe it accordingly.”

One objection by John Sloss Hobart asked, “Do my glasses magnify too much when I fancy I see the cloven foot of monarchy in this business?” His argument? That if the clergy could not “intermeddle with the political concerns of the community; the door is for ever barred against them,” then there should be no civil interference with their authority. “It may happen that our civil governor may recommend a thanksgiving to be celebrated on the same day which our spiritual governors had set apart for fasting.”

A day of national thanksgiving was first proclaimed by President George Washington in 1789. He did so again in 1795, the same year as Jay. New York started making annual proclamations of a day of thanksgiving in 1817.

So whatever you’re thankful for today, you can at least be thankful that you don’t have yellow fever.

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