Troy’s Earliest Merchants

According to Arthur James Weise, in his “The History of the Seventeen Towns of Rensselaer County,” the first merchants of Troy came to the riverside town almost before it was even a town. At that time, Lansingburgh was actually where it was at. In 1786, the present site of Troy was known as Ferry Hook and was occupied by the three farms of Jacob I., Jacob D., and Matthias Van der Heyden, who looked north and saw Abraham Lansing prospering by attracting New England immigrants onto building lots. The Van der Heydens decided to do the same, and it wasn’t long before these new settlers needed a place to buy things. Possibly the first was opened by Benjamin Thurber, whose advertisement in the June 4, 1787 Northern Centinel and Lansingburgh Advertiser shows the kind of wide-ranging inventory and liberal payment policies that were required in those pioneering times; in fact he says far less of what he has to offer than of what he is willing to take in payment:

Benjamin Thurber Hereby acquaints the Public that he continues to sort his New Cash Store, at the sign of the Bunch of Grapes at the Fork of Hoosack Road, near Mr. Jacob Vanderheyden’s with East, West-Indian and European goods of all kinds. For which he will receive, in lieu of Cash, black Salts, Shipping Furs, Wheat, Corn, Rye, Butter, Cheese, Flax and Flax Seed, Tallow, Hogs’ lard, Gammons, Pork, Bees-Wax and old Pewter. He also continues to receive ashes, as usual, to supply his newly erected Pot and Pearl Ash factory and will pearl black Salts in the best manner on Equitable Terms; and also will give the highest Price for black salts.

N.B. – A number of New French Muskets for sale at the above store.

Shortly after him came Benjamin Covell, who set up shop on the west side of River Street, between Ferry and Division streets. He wrote to his brother about the conditions he found:

Ferry Hook, Nov. 16, 1786. – I arrived here the 2d. This country is the best for business I ever saw. I will go into my store the 18th of November; hired it for six months for £12 lawful money. Done more business in one day than in one week in Providence. The night of the 15th, after sundown, took in twenty dollars. Got my goods first from Albany, but in the spring will go to New York. I am one mile from Benjamin Thurber’s down the river. They are all well. I board to Stephen Ashley’s, the same man that I hire of. He appears to be a clever man, and keeps a large tavern, which is a great advantage to me.

“Black Salts,” by the way, refers to a form of potash, which hardly defines anything to the modern reader. Potash is made by burning wood to ashes in a pot, and was used in the manufacture of soap, glass and fertilizer. A “gammon” is the lower end of a side of bacon.

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