Where’s there’s beaver, there’s beaver crime

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munsell annals.png

Munsell’s fourth volume of the “Annals of Albany” begins with various records from the Courts of Assize, generally a criminal court. In the early days of Beverwijck, when the fur-bearing mammal was the main item of trade, there was a considerable amount of beaver theft, unfair beaver trading, and sundry other beaver-related crimes, as these entries from the 1640s indicate:

  • “Decreed that Van Der Donck has no longer any further claim on the beavers. . . . “
  • “Symon Volckertsen, old 20 years declares and confesses voluntarily that Anthony Peters some time past assisted him in stealing four beavers from the shallop of Egbert Van Borssum, which he enveloped in a blanket, carried on shore and offeed for sale to Martin Crieger . . . .”
  • “By Bastiaen Jansen Crol was at Fort Orange arrested 16 beavers, of which the proprietor could not be discovered. . . “
  • “I undersigned declare to owe on sight of this, forty three and a half beaver. . . .”

What’s going on, 1670

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Screen Shot 2012-06-24 at 8.46.25 AM.pngJoel Munsell’s “Annals of Albany” was a ten-volume opus published during the 1850s that was a magnificent mixture of history, biography, and just plain copying of things that happened in Albany’s history. It’s the copying that’s of interest this week, as he took it upon himself to set down, verbatim, a number of records from the Court of Assize. Most of these were orders of the colonial governors, and in 1670 that was Francis Lovelace. These orders were of infinite variety: gubernatorial pardons, establishing schoolmasters, naming midwives, granting a license to butcher.

  • A Pardon graunted to Jan Roeloffs — In 1665, Jan Roeloffs “by an unhappy accident in shooting of a Gunne at unawares in one of the streets of the Towne of Albany” shot Gerritt Verbeeck, who later died of his wound. Before dying, Verbeeck forgave and acquitted Roeloffs of any malicious intent, and an inquiry found  the two “had not any private Grudg or former difference upon any occasion between them as also that the Gunne was not known by the said Jan Roeloffs to be loaden when he shott it of.” Therefore Roeloffs was pardoned.
  • The Governor’s License, granted unto John Shutte, for teaching of the English Tongue at Albany. English was still very much a second language in Albany in 1665. This was signed by Lovelace’s predecessor, Richard Nicolls.
  • An Order for Trentie Melgers to be a profest sworne Midwife at Albany. She had already been in practice 14 years when Governor Lovelace named her as a one of the “profest sworne midwives.”
  • An Order for Dirck Theunissen to have ye priviledg of Cutting and gelding of horses. I’m not entirely sure I’d call that a privilege.
  • William Hoffmeyer appointed Corne Meeter at Albany. It was thought convenient and very necessary that some person should be employed as a “sworne Corne Meeter at Albany to measure all manner of Graine or Corne” that was moving down the river. Today we’d spell it “meter,” but the idea’s the same. It was his job to measure all corn being loaded on boats and sloops at Albany. 
  • An Order for John Povey & Juriaen Jansen to be Pablique Butchers at Albanye. It was thought convenient that someone should be licensed as “publique” butchers to “slaughter & kill such beasts & cattle for the use of the Towne as are Etable and in good condition.” Povey and Jansen were said to have good knowledge of the trade of butchers, and therefore were given the privilege to “slaughter & kill any sorte of beasts & cattle in good condition fitt to be killed & usually vendible. . . .” By the same token, no one else could act as a public butcher.

Charter School, 1670

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English: Francis Lovelace (1621-1675)

English: Francis Lovelace (1621-1675) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1670, Albany’s Schoolmaster Jan Jurians Beecker was having a hard time. Despite the fact that Colonial Governor Richard Nicolls had granted him the right to keep the Dutch school “for ye teaching of youth to read and wryte,” there were some freelance teachers horning in on the business. “Several others not so capable do undertake ye like some perticular tymes & seasons of ye yeare when they have no other Imployment,” according to an order by the next governor, Francis Lovelace, “where by ye Schollars removing from one Schoole to another do not onely give a great discouragement to ye maister who makes it his businesse all ye yeare but also are hindred & become ye more backwards in there learning. . . .” Therefore Lovelace decreed that Jan Jurians Beecker, “who is esteemed very capable that way” would be the schoolmaster for instruction of youth at Albany and parts adjacent “& that no other be admitted to interrupt him.” It was “presumed that ye said Beecker for ye youth & Jacob Joosten who is allowed of for ye teaching of ye younger children are sufficient for that place.” 

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Measure for measure

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Dutch roof line

Dutch roof line (Photo credit: carljohnson)

In 1669, New York had been under British rule for five years, but the colony, her cities and her customs were no less Dutch (nor would they be, according to many reports, until the eve of the Revolution). As one way of establishing control, the British Governor of the Colony, Richard Nicolls declared on November 4th, 1669 “That ye Lawes relating here unto (uniformity of Weights & c,) shall be put in execution.” This meant that on January 1, 1670 in “New Yorke,” Long Island and places adjacent, and on April 1 in Albany, Rensselaerswijk, “Schanecktade,” Kingston, Esopus and parts adjacent, “all persons that sell either by weight or measure are to be provided with weights and measures according to ye English standard of which ye Officers in each respective place are to take care, & that no person shall presume to sell by any other weight or measure.” So presumably bread, wheat, ale, and whatever else might be sold by the schepel, ell or morgen would now be sold by the bushel, foot or acre. Simple enough.

Except that in the last known instance of government acting before society was ready, the Governor found there was a problem, and some time later issued an order. “But finding it very difficult & Inconvenient to putt ye said Acte in practice at ye tymes & places prescribed for want of a sufficient quantity of weights and measures of ye English standard to be disposed of and disperst throughout ye Government,” he was forced to determine that it would still be lawful “to sell and buy by ye same weights and measures they have been heretofore accustomed unto untill ye Country can be supplied with such other weights & measures as in ye said Acte of Assizes are required . . . ” The order does go on to warn that whether you chose to use English or Dutch measures in the interim, there should be “no fraudulent or sinister dealing.”

(If you don’t know it, you should: “ye” is pronounced “the” because the ‘y’ isn’t a ‘y’ at all, it’s thorn.)

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Sifting the ashes

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1923 dustless ash sifter.png

Ran across this 1923 Carl Company ad for dustless ash sifters, only $2.98 in Carl’s Busy Basement, and it occurred to me that even though I’ve heard the phrase “sifting through the ashes” all my life, I wasn’t 100% certain why one sifted through them. Having grown up with a gas furnace (albeit one converted from coal), I never had to clean up after a coal burning furnace or stove. Turns out you sifted through the ashes for two reasons: to avoid putting hot coals in the ash bin, where they might burn through and cause fires, and to return any useable chunks of coal to the stove or furnace. Because coal didn’t grow on trees, you know.

Romantic Albany

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The Northern Traveller, from 1844, relates an earlier,
uncredited, positively gushing description of the capital city on the Hudson:

“The younger race of fashionables and semi-fashionables know
Albany, or affect to know it, merely as a big city-looking place, full of
taverns and hotels, where they land from the steamboat, on their way to
Saratoga, Niagara or Quebec. Another set of less locomotive good folks,
especially in New-York and Philadelphia, have no notions about it, but those
derived from old traditionary jokes about its ancient Schepens and Schoutens,
its burly  Burgomasters, ‘its lofty spires glittering with tin, and hospitable
boards smoking with sturgeon.’

“But in honest truth, there are few cities of the size any
where, which can exhibit a greater or a more agreeable variety of society and
manners. In Albany may be found talent and learning, accomplishment and beauty.
The towns of Europe of the same size and relative importance, can in this
respect bear no sort of comparison with it. Then, too, its situation, the
prospect from its higher grounds and streets abound in scenes meet for romantic

Cruising up the Hudson, 1909-style

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English: US Postage Stamp, Fulton on the Hudso...

English: US Postage Stamp, Fulton on the Hudson, 1909 Issue, 2c (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In “The Motor Boat: Devoted to All Types of Power Craft,”
author C.G. Davis gave us a colorful description of a 1909 trip up the Hudson
River and the Erie Canal aboard the yacht Marie, a 63-footer with two masts, a
12-1/2 foot beam and a rocking 65-horsepower Buffalo motor replacing a former
steam engine. The Marie made her way up the river overnight in just about 13
and a half hours, arriving on a Sunday Fourth of July, along with a fleet of
fourteen small motorboats in a race to Albany and back. The Marie was going
further on, and so had to lower its smokestack and masts in order to get under
the bridges; while the much-beloved Livingston Avenue Bridge and the
long-gone Maiden Lane were swing bridges that allowed ships of any height, the
Greenbush bridge was a lift, and most masted or stacked ships couldn’t simply
sail through.

He notes the ferryboat named for Troy bank director and
furniture dealer R.C. Reynolds. Above Albany, “we ran side by side with the
double-ended ferryboat R.C. Reynolds but she sucked the water past her so fast,
on account of the narrowness of the river, that we could not get by her until
she slowed up to stop at an amusement park on the left bank, called Al-Tro Park,
Albany’s Coney Island
, fitted with water toboggans, merry-go-rounds, carousels,
etc.” (I’ve no clue how a merry-go-round might have differed from a carousel in 1909.)


He writes of passing the opening to the Erie Canal above
this point, which is confusing or confused. On the opposite bank, Davis wrote
of the landscape consisting of a “high terrace of foundry slag dumped from the
foundries on that shore, with the Rensselaer College [RPI] high up on a wooded
knoll beyond.” He passed the collar and cuff factories, a pair of bridges, and
a wooded island (presumably the island under the Collar City Bridge) until
coming upon the “sloop lock, as it is called from the fact that years ago when
sloops carried all the river freight they went through here to the river
above.” This is now known as the Federal Dam at Troy.  Misjudging the channel, the captain grounded
the Marie on a shelf rock in the low tide, but they were able to toss a line to
another grounded canal boat waiting for the tide and dragged their keel off the


There was an early sign of environmental consciousness, and the identification of a problem that haunts the river to this day. “As we were in the first lock we were the center of
attraction from all the gentlemen of leisure who make it their unremunerative
business to criticize every craft that comes into the lock. One fisherman
pointed to his shanty close by and told us all his nets were there stowed away
useless. He said the gas houses dump oily refuse into the river and a fish
can’t swim in it. ‘Inspectors?’ and he spat with disgust, ‘course no inspectors
ever see them dump any refuse. They can store it up till night time; but we boatmen
on the river at night – we see it come out and smell it, too.'” That fisherman
was speaking of the manufactured gas plants that made a form of natural gas
from heating coal, a process that first lit America’s gas lights but left a
toxic legacy of what is technically known as “schmutz” that is still being
cleaned up today. Even now, opening up a seam of the stuff, as happened during
cleanup in South Troy a few years back, can unleash a staggering stench. Nice
to know, though, that in 1909 there were those who saw poisoning the river as
something other than progress.

The lock-tenders, then as now state employees, were held out for praise. “We had heard so much about the pig-headedness of the lock
tenders that I took particular notice on this trip to see it, and must say the
lock tenders we met were a good-natured, willing lot of men.  We didn’t give the lock master a cigar, we
gave him the price of a good one and as he thanked us he remarked, ‘We lock
between fifteen and seventeen yachts a day here and nearly every one hands out
a cigar. Say! Them fellows must think we’re some kind of an animal, but we’re
human beings as well as they and we know a good cigar as well as they – but to
smoke some of the stuff they hand you would kill you dead.'”

A bridge, and then no bridge

Up at Waterford, the Marie passed under the Union Bridge,
built in 1804. Designed by Theodore Burr (as was the Western Gateway Bridge
linking Schenectady and Scotia), it was then the longest wooden bridge in
America, and was the first bridge over the Hudson north of New York City. On
the return trip, the bridge was gone, succumbing to a spectacular blaze on July
10, 1909. More on those bridges here.

Fifth of July

They moved up the Champlain Canal.  “Mechanicsville [sic] is quite a city, and as
we went through there we saw cords of pulp wood piled along the edge of the canal,
and saw canal boats unloading it at the pulp and paper mill, whose three
immense brick chimneys are the canal landmarks for Mechanicsville.” At
Stillwater, “A trolley car came dashing past us here and Mac, suddenly
remembering that this was the Fourth of July, or rather its substitute this
year, the fifth, had Sam load the gun and the next car that came along was
saluted with a gun that made its passengers jump.”  The celebrating continued, as at
Schuylersville [again, sic] they found a large black board planted at a corner
of the road on the river bank, on which was painted in white letters: “Here
Genl. Burgoyne Surrendered His Sword to Genl. Gates, Oct. 17th,

“We saluted families that came out on their porches to see
us pass, and also the mill hands in a large paper mill on the left bank. Every
auto, and several passed us between here and lock 10, was saluted by our

If you’d care to read the entire voyage, it can be found in two parts here.

The Charm House

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Primomo's Charm House
In 1938, a builder named Primomo was advertising the “Charm House” in the Times-Union. Built in a newly developed section off New Scotland Avenue, these homes featured six rooms (!), copper piping, insulation, a basement lavatory and air conditioning. What did they mean by “restricted community”? Not sure if that was racial or religious, but it is oddly unsubtle for the Northeast. All these years later, the homes in this little neighborhood do still have charm.

Plus ça change

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Around the turn of the century (no, the other century), there was some discussion of the City of
Albany setting up a municipal insurance scheme. Similar to other public
utilities, fire and hazard insurance for businesses and residences would be
provided  by the city government. This
came at a time when private insurance was hardly a new thing, and in fact some
of the leading businesses of the day were insurance businesses. But the
objections raised by some, as recorded in “The Insurance Press” in 1906, show
us how little has changed in the century that has since passed.

Edward F. Hackett, of the venerable John G. Myers department
said, “About the first thing that would have to be done would be the
appointment of a commission to be known as an insurance bureau, to manage the
business. This would call around a lot of grafters looking for the spoils of
office. No matter what party got into power, every change of administration
would bring about a repetition of the same practice. If such a bureau and
business could be entirely eliminated from politics, it might stand more of a
chance, but it could not be. It would eventually dwindle to an asylum for the
political spoilsman.”

Charles H. Turner of the Albany Hardware & Iron
Company: “Would not the establishment of a bureau of insurance in
connection with the city government have a tendency to open up an enlarged
field for political henchmen, whichever political party was in power, and thus
defeat the very ends the establishment of such an enterprise seeks to overcome:
namely, a cheaper rate of insurance than is at present being given by the old
line companies?”

The gentleman in charge of the insurance at William M.
Whitney & Co.’s department store was a bit more oblique, and yet pointed at
the same time: “Municipal insurance opens up a wide range of
possibilities, and not all of them appear wise, from a business point of view.
I have not given the matter, however, that consideration or thought that I feel
the question deserves, but at first glance I am inclined to regard the plan in
no very favorable light.”

How thrilled they would be to know that asylums for the
political spoilsman have largely been eliminated from modern life.