Category Archives: Troy

Curious Accident

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Curious AccidentA singular accident happened on the Hudson River Railroad on Friday evening. The Express train which left this city on the above evening for New York, had not proceeded more than three or four miles below Greenbush, before the Engineer discovered that one of the immense driving wheels of the engine was gone. The train was stopped, and a search made for the missing wheel, but it could not be found, and the supposition is that the engine had gone over a mile with only one driving wheel. A new engine was furnished, and the train resumed its way to New York.

–Troy Daily Times, Dec. 5, 1858

The Remarkable Darkness of Sept. 6, 1881

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The remarkable darkness of Tuesday morning, September 6th, 1881, was phenomenal. A heavy yellowish mist obscured objects a hundred feet distant from persons out of doors, and dimmed to a pale-blue brilliancy the burning gas-lights within doors. The children in some of the public schools were dismissed and the operatives in a number of factories discontinued work. The darkness continued until about eleven o’clock when the sun began to dissipate the murky vapor, which had dispread over the state of New York and parts of the adjacent states.

The above was noted in Weise’s “Troy’s One Hundred Years, 1789-1889.” We don’t find much other mention of it locally, but this was the effect of what is known as The Thumb Fire (or the Huron Fire, or the Great Forest Fire of 1881). It was a massive fire in upper Michigan that burned more than a million acres in a single day, killing at least 282 people and sending ash across the northeast. In Boston, they called it “Yellow Tuesday.” The New York Evening Express wrote:

“The sunrise at Lake Placid, in the Adirondacks, on Tuesday, was accompanied by a remarkable phenomenon, a kind of green fog covering everything and producing most weird and singular effects. The leaves of the forest had a green, such as one sees only in paintings, with a great preponderance of yellow ray; the grass seemed artificially colored, the animals had a sea-green color, the mountains disappeared, and in their place were wreaths of green vapor; the clouds were yellowish green; the sun appeared a ball of golden fire through the mist, and all nature seemed to have a strange and mysterious hue.”


The Marshall Sanitarium

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Marshalls Factory and Sanitarium

From the Sanborn, Davenport map of Troy, 1873, the Marshall complexes at the top of Poestenkill Falls.

Again, poking around an old Sampson, Davenport map of Troy, say 1873 (they didn’t change much from year to year, and as we noted yesterday, sometimes included buildings that were never built). Again, finding something we had never known about before. This time what caught our eye was a pair of complexes near Mount Ida. At the top of Poestenkill Falls is a complex marked as “Marshalls Factories.” Across the Poestenkill, another complex, marked as “Marshalls Infirmary and Lunatic Asylum.”

Benjamin Marshall was born in England, and came to Troy from New York Mills (near Utica). In Troy he established textile mills on the south side of Congress Street near what was then known as Mount Ida Falls. The mills were the Ida Mills, established in 1826. He also established the Hudson River Print Works, and later purchased cotton mills in Middlebury, VT and North Adams, MA. The WPA Guide to New York: The Empire State, by the Federal Writers’ Project, claims that Marshall’s Troy plans were the first in the state to control the complete production of cotton textiles, from raw cotton to the finished product. “Ten years later the Marshall plants were reported to be turning out the finest shirtings and prints in the country.”

Marshall was also noted for creating a series of tunnels drilled through rock that took full advantage of the hydropower available from the Poestenkill. He was the first president of the Schenectady and Troy Railroad (1841), was president and board member of the Troy Female Seminary (Emma Willard) and the Commercial Savings Bank, and very highly regarded in the community. An article from the Troy Record in 1964 says that “When his only son, John S., became mentally ill in 1847, he refused to send him to an insane asylum, which in those days had notorious reputations. He founded in 1848 the Marshall Infirmary and started a small building for about a dozen patients. The building on his own 17-acre estate on Linden Avenue was completed two years later. In 1851 it was incorporated with a board of 27 governors and with Mr. Marshall as its first president. The hospital was used for medical and surgical cases, but emphasis was on mental patients.”

According to Weise (“Troy’s One Hundred Years, 1789-1889”), Marshall,

“desiring to provide feeble-minded and diseased people with such care and comforts as might be needed by them, founded, in 1850, the infirmary, on Linden Avenue, near Pawling Avenue. The grounds, and the three-story brick building erected there that year, were then valued at $35,000. On June 20th, 1851, the institution was incorporated by the name of the Marshall Infirmary in the city of Troy. The administration of its affairs was intrusted to twenty-seven persons annually elected governors of the institution. Every person contributing ten dollars to it and annually paying three dollars to its support is a member of the corporation; and every person contributing one hundred dollars and annually paying thereafter five dollars to the corporation besides being a member of it may recommend one sick person to be cared for at the infirmary, without charge, for six weeks in each year of his contribution; and every person contributing one thousand dollars becomes not only a life member, but is privileged to recommend one sick person to be cared for without charge for fifty-two weeks in each year; and every person annually paying ten dollars may recommend one sick person to the care of the institution without charge for four weeks in each year.”

Marshall died in December, 1858; or, as the Troy Board of Supervisors put it, “The sad intelligence is received that Benjamin Marshall is no more.” The Board resolved that they had “heard with feelings of profound regret of the death of their esteemed fellow-citizen, Benj. Marshall, Esq., in whom the public have lost an enterprising man of business, the poor and needy a friend and benefactor, and society one of its brightest ornaments.” Modern readers may be confused by applause for helping the poor and needy, but it was a thing that was done back then. His funeral at Second Street Presbyterian was attended by hundreds; he was buried in a family vault at Oakwood Cemetery. He bequeathed further money to the Infirmary. His son John had recently died; the will disposed his share of the estate to Marshall’s nephews, and provided further support for the infirmary. Once the nephews were gone, “the manufacturing establishments are to be converted into money, to be divided in the same proportion as the income was directed to be divided.” The trust fund for the infirmary benefited from the Marshall Estate leasing the mills to other manufacturers.

During the Civil War, a third wing was added to the infirmary, with Rensselaer County now providing tax support. In 1900, it was named “Marshall Sanitarium.” When it closed in December, 1964, it was a 66-bed facility that had provided 116 years of service, but the explanation for the closing was that it was “duplicating state facilities.” The clinical records were transferred to Samaritan Hospital, according to an ad constituting Samaritan’s 1964 annual report (published April 28, 1965).

The newspapers of the day are filled with tragic reports of the mentally ill trying to harm themselves and being taken to Marshall; one Vermont paper reported that a local woman was going to the sanitarium for a few months as if it were a vacation – unusual in a time when there was so much stigma attached to mental illness.

It was reported in 1966, in an article on the expansion of education, that Russell Sage College had “purchased the bulk of the old Marshall Sanitarium property because of the certainty – still being borne out – that future development of the college would be inevitable.” Russell Sage purchased a 17-1/2 acre site for $32,500. But in 1973, the 30-acre former site of the Sanitarium was being advertised for sale, “ideal for garden apartments or condominiums.” Whether it happened then or later we can’t determine, but today there appears to be no evidence of the old Sanitarium. One street has been removed, and the area where the sanitarium buildings stood appears to be a wooded area today, surrounded by housing.

The College That Never Was

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St. Peter's College Troy from Sampson map 1877

Imagine our surprise when we were looking at an old map of Troy (as we do) and suddenly saw something there we’d never seen before, and had never even heard of: St. Peter’s College. And it turns out there was a reason we hadn’t heard of it – it just didn’t last long. In fact, it never opened. In fact, it was completely destroyed in a landslide.

The college was the brainchild of Father Peter Havermans, something of a force of nature in the Catholic community of Troy, and the Christian Brothers who ran St. Joseph’s Academy, as they had outgrown their building’s capacity and wanted to offer higher branches of study. (At this time, the distinction between high school and college education wasn’t always so crystal clear.) Father Havermans bought land from a Mr. Heartt and Judge Mann, “situated on the hill, under the site of the grounds surrounding Mr. Vail’s beautiful residence,” at the far east end of Washington Avenue, below Mount Ida. Below Mount Ida turns out to have been a poor choice.

The cornerstone for the new college was laid September 19, 1858. There was a formal procession several blocks in length, with religious societies and schoolchildren, orphans from the asylums, and Doering’s Cornet Band. “The corner stone was brought upon the ground about half-past four o’clock, and arranged in its position under a derrick at the central angle of the walls, by fourteen men. It bears engraved upon its front the name of the College, the date of the ceremony accompanying its disposition on the walls, and appropriate symbols. It contains the names of those who have contributed to the erection of the building, together with the usual documents, such as a copy of each daily newspaper, the name of the reigning Pope, the name of the President of the United States, the Governor of New York, the Mayor of the city, the number of patients in the Hospital, the number of orphans, &c.”

The building went under construction, 200 feet in length and five stories high, with two towers. Two stories had been completed by March 17, 1859. At eight o’clock in the evening, Mount Ida slid downhill. The Troy Daily Whig reported:

“A man who lives near by, and was a witness to the catastrophe, says that the earth slid down with very little noise till it reached the rear wall of the college. Here its progress was stopped for a moment, till, gathering new strength, it burst the barrier, and, with a sound like distant thunder, filled the building in a moment, demolishing beams, link-walls and partitions, and covering the entire central part of the edifice. The front wall was also crushed in, but it sufficed to stay the progress of the avalanche.

“A large crowd soon assembled at the scene, and many of them risked their lives in vain attempts to explore the ruins and discover the extent of the disaster. People could be seen in the bright moonlight standing upon projecting masses of earth, directly under overhanging bluffs. Although the particulars of the calamity cannot be accurately ascertained till to-day, it is feared that St. Peter’s College can never be rebuilt in the same locality. The centre of the building is buried up to the depth of several feet.”

No one was injured, owing to the timing – St. Patrick’s Day was a holiday. Had it happened during a workday, it could have killed any number of the 100 workmen who were engaged in the construction. “It is conjectured that if the college and its terrace had not been constructed, unrestrained by this barrier, the earth would have reached the tenement-houses [across the street], and, perhaps, even destroyed the hospital.” The loss was estimated at $27,000, the land was considered unsuitable, and the effort to build the college never recovered.

So the college was never even completed. Yet, it has a strange persistence on the Sampson, Davenport maps of West Troy and Troy, still depicted in editions from 1873-1878, causing us wonder what other buildings that were never even built are shown on these old maps.

My Cane Bottom Chair

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Our endless search for all things Albany and Troy recently turned up this bit of sheet music from 1856 (courtesy of the Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection of the Johns Hopkins Sheridan Libraries and University Museums). Published in 1856 by the music publisher J.H. Hidley of 544 Broadway in Albany, “My Cane Bottom Chair” was composed by Elliott C. Howe, M.D. (author of “Minnie Moore” and “Proud Katy Lane”!) and dedicated Miss Caroline B. Kelsey of Troy, N.Y., who may forever after have wondered if every eligible young doctor she met developed a disturbing fetish for the chairs in which she had sat:



But of all the cheap treasures that garnish my nest,
There’s one that I love and cherish the best;
For the finest of couches that’s padded with hair,
I never would change thee, my Cane bottom’d Chair.

Tis a bandy-legg’d, high-shoulder’d worm-eaten seat,
With a creaking old back, And twisted old feet;
But since the fair morning when Fanny sat there
I bless thee, and love thee, old Cane bottom’d Chair.

Oh, it does go on:

If chairs have but feeling in holding such charms,
A thrill must have pass’d through your wither’d old arms;
I look’d and I long’d, and I wished in despair,–
I wish’d myuself turn’d to a Cane bottom’d Chair.

It was but a moment she sat in that place;
She’d a scarf on her neck, and a smile on her face –
A smile on her face, and a rose in her hair,
And she sat there and bloom’d in my Cane bottom’d Chair.

Want to play the whole song? It’s here.

So who composed this deathless music? Elliot C. Howe was born in Jamaica, Vermont in 1828, and came to New York early in life, getting his education in the academies of Troy and Lansingburgh. His friend Charles H. Peck said in a biographical sketch (published in the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club) that Howe had an early love of natural science, forcing on geology, zoology and botany, but that “music also received a share of his attention and pharmacy had attractions for him.” He studied medicine in New York City, and also wrote for the New York Tribune under Horace Greeley. He received his M.D. and came back to Troy for three years, serving as leader of the choir of the Fifth Avenue Methodist Church. He then taught music, physiology and botany at Charlotteville seminary (Schoharie County) until the seminary building burned down, and then taught music, botany and German in Fort Edward. “Here he became acquainted with Miss Emily Z. Sloan who was also a teacher in the institute and who afterward became his wife.” He became an avid mycologist, which is how Peck came to know him. After seven years, Howe renewed the practice of medicine in New Baltimore, but then moved on to Yonkers for thirteen years before returning to Lansingburgh as his health failed; he died in 1899. Peck wrote:

“He was the author of several pieces of musical composition, among which are ‘Minnie Moore,’ his favorite; ‘The old Arm Chair,’ ‘His pleasant Grave,’ ‘The dying Drummer Boy’ and ‘The Wanderer’s Dream,’ a piece which was played by the musicians of both armies during the Civil War.” He also wrote extensively on mycology, botany and more. His name was, Peck notes, “fittingly commemorated by two fungi, Stropharia Howeana Pk. And Hypoxylon Howeanum Pk.” Three of Howe’s fungus discoveries were named for Peck.

Peck didn’t give us much to go on by way of years, but we’re going to go on an assumption that Howe wrote this during his first return to Troy; once he was married it would be unlikely he’d dedicate such a thing to a single young woman. Miss Caroline Kelsey was a resident of Troy; in 1850, she was 24 years old and living with her mother, Hannah Kelsey. Hannah was a milliner; Caroline was a music teacher. They lived at 19 Fifth Street in 1857, and 13 Sixth in 1859.  It’s not hard to imagine a little romance between the choir leader and the music teacher, though at this remove it may be hard to imagine her being flattered by his paean to a chair on which she once sat.

This sheet music was a thoroughly Albany affair. The lithograph was by Hoffman, Knickerbocker and Company, from an engraving by A. Tolle. The firm of Abraham Hoffman and Charles Knickerbocker, lithographers and engravers, was located at 518 Broadway, across the street from Hidley on the block of Broadway between Maiden Lane and Steuben St. Augustus Tolle was a printer and lithographer in the firm of Adler and Tolle at 26 Beaver Street.

We found some very random notes that indicate that John H. Hidley became a Steinway dealer in 1857, and ads from 1862 and 1863 show his continued association with Steinway, which lasted at least until 1865. We don’t get a strong sense of when Hidley’s business began and ended, though his music in the Library of Congress collection ranges from 1855 to 1865, and the store was still listed in the 1870 directory. A building marked as owned by J.H. Hidley is still on the 1876 Hopkins map, on the southwest corner of Broadway and Steuben, catercorner from the Delavan House.

William Kemp and his 65 Second Street Home

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Our brief mention of the Troy home of William Kemp got us curious … how did 65 Second Street come to be designed by one of the leading architects of his age, Stanford White? White, of the massively influential firm of McKim, Mead and White, designed the arch in New York’s Washington Square, the second Madison Square Garden, a great number of churches and clubhouses, and many residences of the wealthy of the gilded age, primarily on Long Island.

A 1964 article in the Knickerbocker News tells some of the story of the home, which was then undergoing renovation. It was then owned by former U.S. Representative Dean P. Taylor. Just north of it was (and is) the Hart-Cluett mansion, owned by the Rensselaer County Historical Society and also under renovations at the time. To its south was an apartment building that was scheduled to be razed to make way for the Russell Sage College dorm that stands there now, at the corner of Congress and Second. Taylor had served nine terms, starting in 1943, but left Congress after 1960 owing to poor health. He recovered and went into private practice.

“The building is a showplace, from tile and marble-appointed foyer through the main floor reception room and offices to Mr. Taylor’s suite on the second floor. Mr. White – who left many memorials of his talent in such structures as the original Madison Square Garden, the Washington Arch, Farragut Monument and Tiffany Building in New York City – was induced to design the Troy building as a favor to a family friend.

According to stories handed down from old-time Troy families, Mr. White stayed in Troy to supervise construction of the building. His trademarks are found in pilasters in the library, elevation of the treads of the stairs as well as the cathedral windows.

Cornices of the structure correspond with photographs of the original Metropolitan Club in New York City, another creation from the White drawing board.

The first and second floors are trimmed ornately in heavy oak paneling. Even the pickets supporting the bannister on the stairway are carved in unusual detail.

The elegance of the building is further manifested in the more than a dozen fireplaces each [of] different design and size, on the two floors. Rooms have been renovated to afford a hearth for the office of each of Mr. Taylor’s seven partners and associates in the firm of Wager, Taylor, Howd & Brearton of which Mr. Taylor is the senior member.

In a first floor section, which originally was a billiard room when 65 Second Street was one of the most fashionable dwellings in downtown Troy, is a tiled mantle with the inscription, ‘Hang care – Care would kill a cat. Therefore, let’s be merry!!’”

65 Second Street, TroyThe building was built for William Kemp, who was, as his obituary in 1908 reported, associated with Troy’s development for more than half a century. He was last known as a banker, president of the National City Bank of Troy, a national bank that had currency issued in its name. Kemp was born in 1829 in a house that later was the site of the Troy Club, at 7-9 First Street. He left school at the age of nine, and became a clerk in a drug store, and then a typesetter with the Troy Post. He clerked in a grocery store, then entered a machine shop and learned the mechanic’s trade. In 1851 he founded the Kemp Brass Foundry in 1851, and later led the Troy Steel and Iron Company. He also worked in chain manufacture as the president of J.B. Carr Company, and was an organizer and director of The Citizens’ Steamboat Company, formed in 1871 and later under the Hudson Navigation Company. He also was involved in street railways, as president of the Troy and Lansingburgh Railway Company and its successor, the Troy City Railway Company. Later he was a director of successor United Traction Company, vice president of The Troy Gas Company, and director of The Boutwell Miling and Grain Company. He was president of the Mutual Savings Bank, and in 1878 became head of Mutual National Bank, which merged with Central National Bank into National City Bank in 1906; he retired in 1907. He didn’t lack for jobs, or wealth, but he was also active in civic affairs. He was a member of the Board of Education from 1855-72, and president of the board for 14 years. He was a trustee of the Troy Female Seminary and Emma Willard School for more than a quarter of a century, and was a trustee of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute from 1868 to his death. He was a trustee of the Troy Orphan Asylum, and a member of the board of the Marshall Sanitarium, a member of Christ Episcopal Church, a member of the Troy, Ionic, Riverside and East Side Clubs, as well as a Mason and Odd Fellow. He served as paymaster of the Second Regiment, New York Volunteers in the Civil War, and was treasurer of the organization that erected the Soldiers and Sailors’ Monument in Monument Square. For many years, he lived on Fifth Avenue between Federal and Jacob streets, until building 65 Second around 1898.

None of that gives the slightest hint how he might have become acquainted with Stanford White. There was a William Kemp brokerage tangentially involved with the Stanford White scandals, but there doesn’t appear to have been any connection to this William Kemp or his family.

We do know that after the death of Kemp, the home was sold to Charles W. Frear, son of William H. Frear (of Frear’s Cash Bazaar), and then when Frear died it was owned by a Dr. Francis and Mrs. Gladys Fagan. In 1954, they sold it to former District Attorney Earle J. Wiley for about $40,000.

When Money Came From Troy

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Duncan Crary sent along an interesting little bit regarding the re-opening of a local rare coin shop that will also feature an exhibit of currency that was issued in the Capital Region back when that was a thing. Ferris Coin, which has been around since 1930, is reopening at 199 Wolf Road, and will feature a small exhibit of “Capital Region Currency: A History of Money in America” from Nov. 1 through Nov. 22.

Ferris’s release says that the most notable note (sorry) is this one, a $5 bill issued by the National City Bank of Troy. They point out that one of the signatures, that of the bank’s cashier, is by Rice C. Bull, who was wounded at the Battle of Chancellorsville. His diary and letters were edited into a 1977 work, “Soldiering: The Civil War Diary of Rice C. Bull.” But the other signature is worthy of note too, that of William Kemp.

The National City Bank of Troy, according to an Oct. 23, 1957 article in The Saratogian, was then Troy’s largest national bank, chartered by the U.S. Treasury Department and having begun business on March 1, 1905 at the corner of State and First Streets in Troy. (Multiple sources put the start of the bank at 1905; the bill above is the 1902 series. We don’t know how to reconcile that.) By 1957, it was located at State and Third, and it was opening a branch in the brand new Latham Corners Shopping Center, moving fro a previous location on New Loudon Road. The bank also had locations in Cohoes (where it had taken over the Manufacturers Bank of Cohoes), Ticonderoga (merged with the Ticonderoga National Bank) and Port Henry (Citizens National Bank of Port Henry). Its building at State and Third still stands, now a branch of Bank of America, catercorner from Barker Park. Around 1924 the bank bought a building that had been the Arba Read Steamer Co. No. 1 and headquarters of the chief of the Troy Fire Department, as well as the old Second Precinct police station and police court. When the fire and police headquarters were moved to State at 6th, the old building was demolished and the new building erected. The cornerstone was laid in September 1926, with the building officially opening in September 1927. It had “a room set apart and suitably fitted for the use of the women customers of the bank.” In 1930, the United National Bank (northwest corner of State and First) merged with National City. In 1947, the bank acquired a local industrial bank called Troy Prudential Association at 251 Broadway. In 1948, it acquired the Manufacturers Bank of Cohoes.

In 1959, National City Bank of Troy merged with the State Bank of Albany, forming one of the largest banks in the state outside of New York City, with 20 banking offices. Once that happened, it went by the State Bank of Albany name.

William Kemp was its first president, 1905-1907. He had previously been Mayor of Troy, from 1873-75. He was also president of the Troy Brass Foundry (2129-2137 6th Avenue), of the J.B. Carr Chain Works, and of the Troy and Lansingburgh street railroad, and vice president of the Troy Gas Co. and the Troy Citizens Line. His banking gig was his last. He retired in January 1907 and died Aug. 14, 1908.

At the time of his death, he owned a home he had built at 65 Second Street. The Troy Record in 1954 reported that it had been designed by Stanford White and built for $85,000 around the turn of the century. Reports were that White was a family friend; a brokerage by the name of William Kemp shows up in the scandals surrounding White, but it wouldn’t appear that this particular William was associated with that firm. The house still stands, tucked in between the Hart-Cluett Mansion and a Sage College dormitory.

So why was the National City Bank issuing national currency? Well, in 1863 the United States Congress established the national banking system, and authorized the Treasury Department to oversee the issuance of national banknotes, charter and regulate national banks and authorize them to issue national currency secured by the purchase of United States bonds. The national banknotes were redeemable at any national bank. The system remained in place until the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 established the Federal Reserve Board, which then began issuance of Federal Reserve notes.

Ferris Coin has posted pictures of the currency that will be on display; you can see it here.

Talleyrand Visits Albany and Troy

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So, the Marquis and Marquise de la Tour du Pin found themselves in exile in Albany (as one does) in 1794. With what seems like extremely benevolent assistance from General Philip Schuyler and his family, they were set up to buy a farm on property that is now the site of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, on the Troy-Schenectady road and along what is now Delatour Road. The owner of the farm “did not wish to move until after the snow was well packed,” a reminder that travel and moving was much more trouble in the seasons of mud back then. “As we had arranged with the Van Burens, who evidently had had enough of us, for two months only, it was necessary, therefore, to look for another home from the first of September to the first of November.” Hence, their stopover on River Street in what had been a tavern.

“At Troy, we found for a moderate sum, a little wooden house in the midst of a large yard, enclosed by a board fence. Here we established ourselves, and, as it would be necessary for us to purchase some furniture for the farm, we immediately acquired what we wanted.”

While there, they had a most surprising, high-ranking visitor, a central figure in the history of France.

“One day at the end of September, I was in the yard with a hatchet in my hand, occupied with cutting the bone of a leg of mutton which I was preparing to put on the spit for our dinner. All of a sudden, I heard behind me a loud voice which said in French: ‘On ne peut embrocher un gigot avec plus de majesté.’ Turning quickly, I saw Monsieur de Talleyrand and Monsieur de Beaumetz. Having arrived the evening before at Albany, they had learned from General Schuyler where we were. They came on his part to invite us to dinner and to pass the following day with them at his house. These gentlemen were to remain in the city only two days. An Englishman who was one of their friends was accompanying them and was very impatient to return to New York. However, as Monsieur de Talleyrand was very much amused at the sight of my leg of mutton, I insisted that he should return the following day to eat it with us. He consented.”

The visitor, who said “You can not stick a leg with more majesty,“ was Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, Bishop of Autun, one of the authors of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. An emissary to Britain during the Revolution, he was forced to stay there when a warrant for his arrest was issued in December 1792, and then forced to leave Britain in March 1794 under the expulsion order of William Pitt after France declared war on Britain. Like some others of his countrymen, he came to the United States. Interestingly, Talleyrand was the house guest of Aaron Burr in New York City, but it is reported he declined to return the hospitality some years later when Burr was in self-imposed exile, as Burr had in the interim killed Talleyrand’s friend Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804.

The Marquise left her children in care of their traveling companion and fellow exile Monsieur de Chambeau and “Betsey,” her white servant, and set out for Albany with Talleyrand and Beaumetz to dine with the Schuylers. Apparently the Marquis joined them as well. Arriving there, they found General Philip Schuyler had just received newspapers bearing the latest news from France, which in this case was the events of 9 Thermidor – July 27, 1794 under our calendar.

“Here we found the news of the Revolution of the 9 Thermidor; the death of Robespierre and his followers, the end of the shedding of blood and the just punishment of the Revolutionary Tribunal. Monsieur de Talleyrand was rejoicing especially that his sister-in-law, Mme. Archambauld de Périgord, had escaped, when, later in the evening, having taken up from the table a paper which he though he had read, he found her name among the terrible list of victims executed the 9 Thermidor, that very morning, during the session in which Robespierre was denounced. The news of her death painfully affected him … Without the news of this cruel event, our evening with General Schuyler would have been more agreeable.”

Talleyrand returned to Troy to enjoy the hospitality of the de la Tours. Having known him her entire life, the Marquise noted that Talleyrand had a paternal and gracious tone that was very charming. “I regretted sincerely to find so many reasons for not holding him in esteem, but I could not avoid forgetting my disagreeable recollections when I had passed an hour in listening to him. As he had no moral value himself, by singular contrast, he had a horror of that which was evil in others. To listen to him without knowing him, you would have believed that he was a worthy man.”

As today pretty much all talk has to turn to Hamilton, apparently do it did then as well. Two days later they spent the day at Mrs. Van Rensselaer’s home, with all the Schuylers. This was Margarita “Peggy” Schuyler, daughter of General Schuyler, who married the patroon Stephen Van Rensselaer III, and whose sister Elizabeth was married to Alexander Hamilton.

“Monsieur de Talleyrand had been extremely impressed by the remarkable culture of Mrs. Van Rensselaer, and could not believe that she had not passed years in Europe. She had a very clear understanding of American affairs and the Revolution, of which she had gained a profound and extended knowledge through her brother-in-law, Colonel Hamilton, who was the friend and also the most intimate confidant of Washington. Colonel Hamilton was expected at Albany where he intended to pass some time with his father-in-law, General Schuyler. He had just resigned the position of Secretary of the Treasury, which he had held since the peace. It was to him that the country owed the good order which had been established in this branch of the government of the United States. Monsieur de Talleyrand knew him and had the very highest opinion of him. But he found it very remarkable that a man of his value, and endowed with talents so superior, should leave the Ministry to resume the profession of lawyer, giving as his reason for this decision that the position of Minister did not give him the means of bringing up his family of eight children. Such a pretext seemed to Talleyrand very singular and, so to speak, even a little naïf.

The following morning Talleyrand and company made one final visit to the Troy homestead, and then took a sloop back to New York City. Some time in November the winter snows came, and the river ice, which made it possible to move to the farm in what is now Colonie. With that beginning of transition to the farm life, the Marquise writes casually of an event that she must have previously considered inconceivable, for she notes its extreme singularity but provides no elaboration on what was then a waning practice, but still a legal one in New York:

“At this time we bought a negro, and this purchase, which seemed to be the most simple thing in the world, produced in my case a feeling so new that I shall remember it all my life.”

As before, the source for all this is the Marquise’s memoir, “Journal d’une femme de cinquante ans.” 

The French Exiles Adopt Very American Ways

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Marquis de la Tour du PinOne of the joys of amateur history is putting something out there and instantly getting a reaction with whole new information that we never knew, or making a connection that we had somehow missed. So yesterday’s entry on the French exile, the Marquis de la Tour du Pin (among other names – proper addresses for nobility are not our long suit) brought reactions that gave us both information we didn’t have, and gave us one of those “oh, duh!” moments.

So first, with thanks to Paula Lemire, we have the realization that the wife of the Marquis, referred to by Weise as the “Marchioness,” wrote an autobiography. And it’s available in English. And it’s on “Journal d’Une Femme de Cinquante Ans,” by la Marquise de la Tour du Pin was edited and translated by Walter Geer as “Recollections of the Revolution and the Empire” in 1920. The whole life of Henriette Lucie Dillon, la Marquise, is here. And, happily, she fills in some more detail of their time in exile from the French Revolution. Unhappily, she makes not a single mention of Troy, when it was their residence in a vacant tavern on River street that brought them to our attention.

The Marquis and Marquise first arrived at Boston in 1794, without “a single letter of introduction.” The owner of the ship they crossed on offered them the use of a farm he owned 18 miles from Boston, but the Marquis wanted to be “as near as possible to Canada, where he would have liked to settle.” From another exile in England came word of an American connection, a Mrs. Church, who made a recommendation to a family residing at Albany. “She was a daughter of General Schuyler who had gained a great reputation during the War of Independence … His eldest daughter had married the head of the Van Rensselaer family which was settled at Albany and possessed a large fortune in the county.” The connection made, they soon received “very pressing letters from General Schuyler in which he urged us to come without delay to Albany, where he assured us we would easily be able to establish ourselves.”

“At Boston I sold everything among the effects which we had brought with us which could bring us in a little money. As the ‘Diane’ had made the voyage without cargo, our baggage, which had cost us nothing to transport, was very considerable. We disposed of more than half of it; clothing, cloth, laces, a piano, music, porcelains – everything which would be superfluous in our little household was converted into money and then into drafts upon persons of responsibility at Albany. After remaining a month at Boston we set out with our two children, Humbert and Séraphine, the first of June, and fifteen days later we arrived at Albany. We traversed the whole state of Massachusetts, of which we admired the fertility and the air of prosperity. But a sad piece of news had made me so melancholy that I did not enjoy anything. Before leaving Boston my husband had heard of the death of my father who perished on the scaffold the thirteenth of April.”

They stayed with General Schuyler briefly, and he arranged for them to live for three months with the Jan Van Buren family, who lived not far from his brother, Col. Schuyler’s farm, and very close by the new village of Troy. They went to live “with Mr. Van Buren to learn American manners, as we had made it a condition of living with this family that they were not to change in any way the customs of the house. It was also arranged that Mrs. Van Buren should employ me in the housework the same as if I were one of her daughters.” Another Frenchman accompanying them, M. de Chambeau, “began an apprenticeship with a carpenter of the little growing city of Troy situated at a quarter of a mile from the Van Buren farm.” When news of the executions of the fathers of the Marquis and M. de Chambeau came:

“As I was a very good seamstress, I fashioned for myself my mourning costume, and my good hostess, having thus learned to appreciate the skill of my needle, found it very pleasant to have a seamstress at her command without cost, when she would have been obliged to pay a dollar a day and board if she had hired one from Albany.”

They were awaiting the arrival of funds from Holland so they could purchase a farm, and their plans in that regard, to do things the American way, tell some of the shameful hidden history of the Albany area:

“General Schuyler and Mr. Van Rensselaer advised my husband to divide his funds into three equal parts: A third for the purchase; a third for the management, the purchase of negroes, horses, cows, agricultural implements and household furniture, and a third part, added to what remained of the 12,000 francs brought by us from Bordeaux, for a reserve fund to meet unexpected circumstances, such as the loss of negroes or cattle and also for living expenses the first year. This arrangement became our rule of conduct.”

New York would not pass its first gradual emancipation law until 1799. At this time, by the evidence of the Marquise, it was simply presumed that if you were going to launch a prosperous farm, you would do so with slaves. By way of comparison, Vermont abolished adult slavery when it broke from New York with its own constitution in 1777, though there were apparently violations of the law. That was 22 years before New York’s first step toward abolition, which didn’t take on the first try.

In September 1794, the Marquis entered negotiations with a farmer “situated on the other side of the river, upon the road from Troy to Schenectady, a distance of two miles in the interior … The house was new, pretty and in very good condition. The land was only partially under cultivation. There were one hundred and fifty acres sown down, as many in woods and pasturage, a small kitchen garden of a quarter of an acre full of vegetables, and finally a handsome orchard sown with red clover and plated with cider apples. They asked us 12,000 francs. General Schuyler did not think the price exorbitant. The property was situated at four miles from Albany, upon a route which they were going to open up to communicate with the city of Schenectady, which was in a thriving situation.”

While no longer a farm, the house still stands today – on the land of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, just up from where Watervliet-Shaker Road intersects with … Delatour Road. Delatour. De La Tour. As in the name of the Marquis and Marquise. (That’s the “oh, duh!” moment.)

Next, we’ll have some more details of life on the farm.

French Refugees in 19th Century Troy

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It appears that early on in its history, the then-village of Troy was home to political refugees from France. In his “Troy’s One Hundred Years, 1789-1889,” Arthur James Weise says that in 1794, Troy became the temporary home of several refugees.

“The most eminent were Frédéric Séraphin, marquis de la Tour du Pin Gouvernet, and his lovely wife. The marquis had served with distinction as an officer in the French army, and at the beginning of the Reign of Terror, had loyally devoted himself to save Louis XVI from dethronement. Losing in a single day, in April, 1794, by ordered executions, his father, father-in-law, and uncle, and knowing that his own life was in jeopardy, he escaped arrest by concealing himself for six weeks in the city of Bordeaux. There is secretly succeeded in obtaining passports to America for himself, his children and their nurse. Disguised as peasants they embarked without detection and had a safe passage to the United States. The young and accomplished marchioness was also successful in securing a passport, dressed as a boy, under the name of Charles Lee, whose uncle, it was alleged, had died, leaving him property in the United States.”

Weise reports that the marquis and marchioness arrived separately in New York City, bearing only two trunks of fine towels and letters of introduction to wealthy citizens of Albany. They were referred to Troy as a pleasant and secluded residence and given introduction to Mrs. John Bird, later the wife of Colonel Albert Pawling. According to Weise, they asked her to refrain from introducing them around, and to “shield them as far as practicable from any attentions which as strangers and persons of rank might be shown them by the inhabitants.

They rented a vacant tavern at 140 River Street that was later known as Mechanics’ Hall, apparently the only vacant building in the village that was suited as a residence – it was literally boarded up when they took possession, and “The bar room, used for a parlor and dining-room, was cheaply and scantily furnished.” Weise says that the Marquis was befriended by “the nephew of Comte de Rochambeau,” who had made his home in Troy a temporary refuge. In order to better support his family, the marquis purchased a small farm three miles west of Port Schuyler (Watervliet), and moved from Troy to cultivate it, “assisted by a number of slaves.”

“At the close of the French Revolution, the marquis returned to France with his family. His confiscated property was restored to him and his political ability was again employed in the services of his country. Under the Empire, he was prefect of Amiens and Brussels, counselor to the embassy at the Congress of Vienna, minister plenipotentiary to the court of the Netherlands, and afterward to Sardinia. In 1832, he retired to Lausanne, where he died in 1837, in the seventy-ninth year of his age.”

What little we can find of Frédéric-Séraphin , Marquis of La Tour du Pin , Count of Gouvernet, doesn’t contradict Weise’s account, but doesn’t entirely confirm it, either. A Wikipedia entry (translated from the French because I love the language but can never learn it) confirms many of the basic details, saying that the Marquis was part of the LaFayette expedition “to help the revolted Americans, before returning to France to pursue his military career.” It says he was Minister Plenipotentiary at The Hague in 1792 before emigrating, his father and uncle having been guillotined. But it doesn’t say where he emigrated to, and doesn’t detail his return. Our resource on LaFayette makes no mention of the Marquis, and provides only sketchy information on the other Frenchmen who came over with him and in some instances stayed.

The National Archives has some correspondence between Marquis de La Tour du Pin and Alexander Hamilton. In sourcing it, the Archives says that the Marquis was an aide-de-camp to LaFayette during the revolution, and following the war was named colonel of the Royal-Vaisseaux and served as an aide to his father, who was the Minister of War. In 1794 he emigrated to the United States, “where he bought and operated a farm near Albany. Three or four years later he went to England.”

The Archives also helpfully provides a description of La Tour du Pin’s property that was published in an advertisement in the [Philadelphia] Courrier de la France et des Colonies, March 1, 1796, offering the property for sale:

“A farm newly occupied by the undersigned, situated in Watervleit [sic], five miles north of Albany, and two miles north of Troy; it contains 206 acres. There is a pleasant house with dependencies, in all in very good order; a large orchard full of choice trees, and a good sized vegetable garden where there are also fruit trees and bushes. The farm utensils are also for sale, a complete assortment, with several milk cows and mares that will bear….”

The letter, dated February 21, 1798, seems to indicate that La Tour du Pin was still trying to sell his property. Relying more than we’d like to on Google Translate, the letter notes that he would like to sell his farm “d’Albany,” and notes that the previous kindnesses shown by the family of Madame Hamilton “make me hope that at your request she will still be willing to render the Service to us to sell this small object.” He wrote to Hamilton on the topic again in July 1798, at which point he may have left the United States.

With the beauty of hindsight and the power of editing, we note that the farm of La Tour du Pin was located on what is now called Delatour Road, for what, in the bright light of morning, are blazingly obvious reasons. More to come on that.