History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Frontiersmen of New York
by Jeptha R. Simms
Albany, NY 1883
Volume I, Page 420
Duel and Death of Gen. Alexander Hamilton.-In this connection it may be well to mention the death of this representative man, who for a time occupied a commanding position in the public eye. Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr had both been distinguished as patriotic officers of the Revolution, both after the war were lawyers of large practice at New York; and in the organization of political parties of the nation, both stood in the front rank of them as leaders-Hamilton as a Federalist and Burr as a Republican. Each had occupied commanding positions, Hamilton as Secretary of the United States Treasury, and as the successor of Washington as Commander-in-chief of the army; and Burr as Vice-President of the United States. At the close of his term, Burr became unpopular in his party affiliations; but as ambitious as ever, he sought by allying himself to the Federal party, to obtain the nomination of governor of the State of New York.
Burr still retained the friendship and confidence of some Republican leaders, and also got into the good graces of some Federal leaders, and obtained the nomination for governor--Morgan Lewis ran against him and was elected. The defeat of Burr seemed to leave him without the pale or confidence of either party; and with his political fortunes thus wrecked, he cast about him to learn the cause. He became satisfied that the influence of Gen. Hamilton had prevented his having been President instead of Vice-President, and now had been instrumental to the election of Lewis in his stead. A spirit of revenge would seem to have entered his breast. Many in both parties had spoken of him before and during the canvass, as an unfit person for the position; but he called Hamilton .to an account for what he personally was known to have said of him. The offending words were: "Burr is a dangerous man, who ought not to be trusted with the reins of government:" and to a friend Hamilton wrote: "I could detail a still more despicable opinion of him."-See Hammond's Political History.- Burr called upon Hamilton by letter, for an explanation or retraction of the offending words, which he refused to make; and the challenge and duel followed. The parties met July 12, 1804, at Hoboken, and Hamilton fell, another victim to a false and wicked code of honor. Thus a father and son from the higher walks of life fell ingloriously. The sympathy of the world, however, looked with more favor upon the fall of the former than of the latter-still each was the offending party.
Gov. Lewis on a Circuit.-Here is a reminiscence of that period. Gen. Morgan Lewis was chosen Governor in 1804, which office he held till 1807. In 1806, he made a tour of observation, such as has since been characterized as: "swinging round the circle." In that jaunt he visited Johnstown, at which time said Jedediah Holmes; Peter Hubbell kept a tavern there. Gov. Lewis dined at this house, on which occasion Spencer Philpott furnished mahogany tables. The Governor reviewed a body of troops, and in their firing a salute an accident happened, by which the hat of James Voorhees was blown off and he was slightly injured; on which account the Governor gave him $10. At this time a man was on the gallows at Johnstown, to be hung for whipping a child to death; whom Gov. Lewis pardoned. The Governor, who with friends traveled in a carriage, had a military escort from one county to another. As one of the escorts Maj. Jost Spraker, then a captain of cavalry, with his company received his Excellency at his own house in Palatine, and proceeded with him to Herkimer. The captain who was then full of military pride, had on a rich scarlet coat and heavy epaulettes, and having a manly figure he made a good appearance, attracting more attention than did the Governor. After a halt at Little Falls, the Governor desired to change seats with Capt. Spraker, in the 7 mile ride to Herkimer. And thus as was said at the time, Capt. Spraker, became Governor for an hour. Along the way the captain was saluted by admiring gazers where congregated, many of whom could not distinguish between the civil and military officers, supposing, of course, the Governor was in the carriage. Not so with all: one old lady recognized him as she courtesied, and exclaimed: "La me! 'Tis neit the Governor, 'tis Yeretie's Yost !"-'Tis not the Governor, 'tis George's Jost.
An Indian's Ready Wit.-Here is an original anecdote going to show the quick adaptation of means to an end, which necessity often taught her untutored children. Henry Whiting, a native of Massachusetts, who is said to have seen service in the Revolution;* was an officer of some grade in the war of 1812; after which he was in the Quater-Master General's department. .While acting in that capacity at Michilimackinac, Mich., a part of his duty was as an agent of the government, to distribute annuities and presents to the Indians, who were there assembled periodically to receive them. On such occasions a general feast was provided for them, arid agreeable to their custom when every appetite was satiated, the Indians would clear the tables of all the food remaining-considering it theirs because provided for them-to be taken to their homes, or to serve them on their way thither.
On one of those gatherings the Quater-Master thought he would provide a savory dish which if any of it remained, they would be obliged to leave behind them; and therefore he had a large quantity of soup prepared. As he had anticipated, when all had done eating and began to fill their baskets with the remaining fragments, a gallon or two of soup remained upon the table. At such times not only the head men came in, but numbers of their women and children also came, to partake of the white man's feast.
* See Drake's DIctionary of American Biography.
In the present unusual dilemma, several sachems were seen with their heads together earnestly engaged upon some topic, though in their native tongue and a low tone of voice. Immediately after, one of them saw on a young Indian a deer-skin shirt, which he quickly snatched from his person-one end of it was gathered and tied together-the soup poured in at the other end, and away went the party; exulting at the thought that their ingenuity and. ready wit had triumphed over the trick of the" pale face," and they were enabled to bear off the rich surplus of the feast. This story was communicated to the writer about the year 1850, by Rev. J. M. Van Buren, to whom the facts had been authenticated years before.
A Plucky Woman.-On page 497 of my Schoharie County, etc., I gave an anecdote of a patriotIc lady living near New London, Ct., which story belongs to the last war with Britain instead of the Revolution. The Americans brought a gun to bear upon a British man-of-war, that had the temerity to make a near approach to the harbor; which was about to desist from firing, for the want of wadding; when our heroine loosening a flannel petticoat on her person, threw it to the cartridge-man with the exclamation, "this will enable you to fire a few shots more!" The garment was torn up, and the gun continued its fearful execution upon the foeman. In consequence of tje patriotic deed related, this old lady was visited by many distinguished individuals, among whom, were numbered several Presidents of the United States.-Rev. J. M. Van Buren.
Commodore Perry at Schenectada.-Oliver Hazard Perry was born at Newport, R. I., in August, 1785, and died of yellow fever at Port Spain, on the island of Trinidad, August 23, 1819. He was commissioned a Lieutenant in the navy in 1809. In February, 1813, be went to the lakes under the command of Commodore Isaac Chancery, and in March took command of the naval force on Lake Erie. On the tenth of September he had an engagement with the British squadron on that lake, over which he gained a complete victory; after which be cooperated with Gen. Harrison in taking Detroit. At the close of operations the same fall, he gave up his command on the lake and returned to the eastward, meeting with ovations at every place of importance on the way. Congress, as a reward for his brilliant services, awarded him a gold medal, and promoted him to a captaincy, dating his commission on the tenth of September-the day of his victory on Lake Erie, over the enemy's squadron under Commodore Barclay. We are not certain when Perry got the title of Commodore. A few years after his death his remains were removed to the place of his nativity; and, in 1860, a marble statue was erected to his memory at Cleveland, Ohio, not far distant from which place he had won his greatest laurels.
At this period-viz., in the war of 1812-there were few conveniences for public travel through the Mohawk Valley; but the improved navigation of the river, with its inland locks at Little Falls, allowed the passage of the Durham boats and other crafts drawing some two feet of water. Most of those boats were partially decked; some of them were built with cabins so as to accommodate passengers, and not a few travelers availed themselves of their use in making trips up and down the river between Schenectada and Fort Stanwix, and even to the west. ward of that place. New England people removing west at the beginning of this century, often made the journey in those boats, taking along their effects at the same time.
When Commodore Perry returned from Lake Erie to Albany in the fall of 1813, he passed down the Mohawk in a Durham boat called the" Commodore Perry," in charge of Capt. James Freeman. Possibly this boat was called a river packet, as some intended to carry passengers were so called. The boat was owned by Capt. Jonathan Walton, * who was, to considerable extent, engaged in the river navigation; and, on its arrival at Schenectada, landed with its distinguished passenger at " Walton's dock," which was near the old river bridge.+ On his arrival he became the guest of Col. Charles Kane,++ in Washington street. A public reception was given him in a ball-room in Roger's hotel, corner of Union and Ferry streets.
Among the respectable citizens present were Dr. Nott, and other members of the Union College faculty, Dr. Adams, Col. Kane, Isaac De Graff, Col. James Duane, Capt. Walton, Gen.
* Capt. Walton had been an officer In the British
service before he made Scbenectada his home. The Walton dwelling was afterwards
converted into a female seminary.
+ This bridge was completed in 1810, passed through many vicissitudes of flood and ice, and gave place to a new one in 1874, which now stands upon its seven old piers.
++ Mr. Kane was long president of the Mohawk Turnpike Company.
Abram Oothout, Gov. J. C. Yates and his brother Henry, a Vedder, a McDougal,. a Teller, a Van Ingen, a Marcellus, a Sanders, a Van Guysling, a Van Debogert; a Tucker, a Switts, a Boyd, a Schemerhorn, and a host of other worthies not now remembered. By whom he was first addressed is uncertain; but an octogenarian friend,* then a boy, present, well remembers that he was publicly addressed on that occasion by Aaron Vedder, a prominent citizen, in the Low Dutch language. It is not certain that Perry could understand it, but he nevertheless made a very pretty speech in English in return.
The river boatmen, of whom there were then a considerable number in town, having imbibed freely of something stronger than metheglin, became boisterous, with unbecoming conduct in the streets, when old Dr. Adams-as another octogenarian friend+ has assured me-went to remonstrate with them. They did not offer to harm him, but they quite unceremoniously forced him astride a cow in the street, and, while one on each side of her held him on, two others, taking her by the horns, led her a block or two, to the discomfiture of the old gentleman, who was glad to get free from the jackanapes and return to his home. The figure the old doctor cut-was a very ludicrous one, and long after afforded food for gossipers.
At the period of which I am writing, there stood in Jay street a house known to fame as THE BLUE OVEN; so called because its most prominent feature was a large oven, which protruded toward the street and was painted blue. This house, of which Madam Betsey Van Dyck was proprietress, had not the best reputation of any house in town, and late in the evening the jolly boatmen made a raid of a somewhat riotous character, upon The Blue Oven. They had, however, not accomplished much except to demolish the oven; when the city authorities interposed and sent the rioters to their homes. The good citizens were not a little mortified, to think that the arrival of their distinguished guest should be made the occasion of such rude and turbulent conduct on the part of their river sailors.
* Lawrence Marcellus, Esq., of Palatine, N.
Y. He was born in Schenectady, February 23, 1795, died in Palatine. 1879.
+ Hon. Peter J.. Wagner, of Fort Plain. He was born In the town of Palatine, N. Y., August 14, 1795: At the time mentioned above, he was a student of Union College.
At the time of Commodore Perry's visit to the city "Over the Pines," he was 29 years old, and is remembered as being a good looking, fair sized man, wearing dark side whiskers. On the morning after his arrival, Schenectada was all astir in its preparation to accompany its guest to the top of the hill on the Albany road; where a military escort was in readiness with a carriage to take him to that good city. Our old student friend, P. J. Wagner, was in early life quite a musician-indeed he yet has a critical ear for musical harmony-and at an early hour Dr. Nott had him out with the College Band of which he was leader, to furnish music for the faculty and citizens of the escort from Col. Kane's dwelling to meet the Albany delegation. This was a proud. morning for" Dorp." A large number of her best citizens were in attendance to the hill, and the College Band genteelly played the hero off.
An Accident attending the Celebration of Peace at Schenectada. -At the close of that war in which we had measured strength the second time with the mother country; there was a very general celebration of the return of peace, in February, 1815 ; and the event was becomingly observed at Schenectada. A part of the ceremony was transferred to the Mohawk, which was then closed with its winter covering of heavy ice. A 12 pounder cannon was taken upon it attended by numbers of patriotic citizens, there to fire a national salute. Several loud guns had already spoken as may be supposed of the victories of New Orleans and other places, when James Freeman,* the river boatman and skipper with whom Com. Perry had passed down the :Mohawk a year or two before, thrust a pole into the muzzle of the gun to turn it, intending thereby to send its triumphant voice in another direction. Just as he was drawing the pole from the piece he slipped and partially fell, at which moment the match was applied and the gun discharged. The wad tore one arm from its socket at the shoulder, and carried it several rods; and the top part of the skull was laid open exposing the brain. He, of course, was instantly killed, and the balance of the salute was not fired. Indeed, this sad event cast a terrible gloom over the whole town, in which the deceased was a general favorite.
* Richard Freeman, the father of James and another brother, were all river boat. men, and were numbered among the best of those craftsmen, who then navigated the Mohawk river, the Oneida Lake, etc., etc. So says Marcellus, our Informant.
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