History From America's Most Famous Valleys
of New York
by Jeptha R. Simms
Albany, NY 1883
Volume I, Page 427.
Reminiscences of Little Falls in the War of I812.-Near the beginning of the present century, David Barber, a tailor by trade located at Little Falls, at which place he died May 2, 1860. He was gatekeeper for seven years at the toll-bridge over the Mohawk at this place, embracing the period of our second war with the mother country; working at his trade for regular customers in the meantime: The bridge was not a covered one, and its toll house in which the Barber family resided, was built upon the rocks on the upper side of its southerly end.
On a certain occasion, believed in the summer of 1813, a company of New York troops on its way to the frontier, tarried over night at Little Falls; and early on the following morning, a very pleasant one, a loud knocking was heard at the gate. Mr. Barber had two sons then aged respectively, James 13, and Reuben 7 years. Those boys slept in an upper room, a window of which looked out upon the bridge. Awakened by the unusual noise, the boys got up and looked from the window, in time to see their father let two men through the gate, one of whom was a large and dark complexioned man, who the boys thought, might have been a mulatto.
Sometime after those men came back to the gate, and as the boys were then up, James, who sometimes attended at the gate, received their toll-two cents each, and passed them through. Just after the gate was closed and the men had neared the other shore, a squad of soldiers was seen approaching that end of the bridge from the village. They proved to be a party looking for the two men named who were deserters; and seeing them turn back upon the bridge toward the gate, they advanced in pursuit. The white man, as I shall call him, apprehending the danger of a capture without an attempt to recross the bridge, sprang over it at the abutment on the lower side, effected a safe landing on the rocks ten feet below, and made good his escape. The other ran toward the gate, seeing which his pursuers ran, shouting, stop thief. On arriving at the gate the confused fugitive took from his pocket a handful of silver money, but fearing to open the gate after hearing the cry of "stop thief," the boy did not dare to let him through; and determined not to be taken back-just as they were about to seize him, he sprang over the upper side of the bridge in front of the house, and landed in several feet of water on the rocky bottom nearly twenty feet below, one foot seeming to enter a pot-hole, as cavities worn in the rocks were then denominated; where he remained evidently insensible, if not dead.
No effort was made by the party to take this fugitive from the water, and, as they had no guns with them, they asked Mr. Barber to get them one, with which they might shoot him. But they were soon relieved of such necessity, for, after swaying about for a few moments in the water, he was washed off by the current and disappeared in the surges of the rapids below. It is not known that any attempt was made to recapture the man who escaped from the bridge. Had they staid upon the south side of the river a few hours longer they would, no doubt, both have escaped, as the country was favorable for their concealment. The troops were delayed in starting on, in consequence of their absence, a contingency they had not calculated on.
The body of this drowned deserter, whose name has long been out of memory, floated some time after into an eddy at the" Gulf Bridge," below the village, when it was taken from the water and buried in the bank near by, without a coffin. Our informant, Reuben Barber, a son of the gate-keeper named, who saw him in the water on the day of his death, and who was present at his interment, says that his bloated body was a disgusting sight.
Other Events at Little Falls.-About the year 1812, Gen. Christopher Bellinger had a grist-mill on the south side of the river; and the house occupied by his miller, and another house known as the Firman dwelling, were, with the toll-house, all the tenements then standing in the present village of Little Falls, on that rocky shore. Indeed, at that period, the village was but a small one; and the residence of William Alexander -a good sized stone dwelling, which was burned down a few years ago-was the best private residence in the place. This Alexander was, at this period, a successful merchant, His house stood on the west side of Ann street, running from the river bridge to the turnpike, and on the north side of the old canal; his store being situated on the same side of the canal, but across the street from the dwelling. John Alexander, a brother of William, traded about the same time in a store which was situated ont he northwest corner of Ann Street and the turnpike, and fronting on the latter was a good sized building of wood, which was occupied by a Mr. Crane as a ta.vern; while at a. little distance east of it, on the same side of the road, was a substantial stone edifice, called, at an early day, the Hinchman house. For a long period this was known as the old stage house; but, in the growth of the village, it gave place some years ago to modem improvements.
At the period under consideration, William Alexander had a clerk in his employ named William Given, who was a tailor by trade, and, when not engaged, in selling goods, he was at work on one end of the counter at his former occupation. He was a remarkably quick and active young man, and with all not lacking in personal bravery, as the following anecdote rela.ted by Reuben Barber, who witnessed the transaction, will attest.:
A Challenge and a Fight.-About noon, on a pleasant summer's day, believed to have been in 1815, a man named Tenbroek, who resided on Fall Hill, a few miles distant, had some altercation with young Given at Alexander's store; and being a heavy six-footer, and his adversary comparatively small, he offered to bet $25 that he could whip the latter in five minutes. Given accepted the challenge, the stakes were placed in the hands of Mr. Alexander, who laid them carefully away in his money drawer, and the parties stepped out upon a grass-plot back of the store, hats and coats off, to determine who should win the stakes.
A war of words had lasted long enough to fill the store with a crowd of interested spectators, anxious to witness the impending trial of physical strength and its counterpart agility. We are unadvised whether any side bets were made or pools sold; but, all things being ready, the fight commenced. Tenbroek, who had a somewhat pugilistic reputation, looked upon his adversally much in the same light that Goliah did upon David of Bible memory; for Given looked small, and an easy prey before him, as he aimed a terrible blow at his head with his fist. Three times did his weighty arm make a similar pass, and each time found no head to resist it, for, wiry and supple as an eel, his adversary had each time showed him the trick of Paddy's flea. Having allowed him a chance to become somewhat exhausted and rather off his guard, Given sprang like lightning and planted both his feet square in the breast of his antagonist, who measured his whole length upon the ground, and was for some moments stunned by the fall.
As Tenbroek recovered sufficiently to regain his feet, maddened, no doubt, by hearing a shout of applause at his expense, he was asked if he would give up the bet: "No!" he shouted with emphasis; and again squared away at his adversary, who kept him at bay with the same apparent ease by dodging his wind-cutting blows until his opportunity arrived, when he planted his feet a second time in his bread-basket, and again a six-foot portrait was measured heavily upon the ground. When able once more to regain his feet-which he did, after a while, pale and trembling with emotion-he gave up the bet, and in no very good humor took himself away. What appeared as a marvel to the bystanders, Given had actually whipped the bully without having so much as laid a hand upon him; and we suppose this to have been his first and last pitched battle, but whether so or not, certain it is he became the acknowledged champion of the Little Falls war club, if any such existed.
William Alexander died young, and William Given married his widow, and continued the mercantile business. The Hon. H. P. Alexander, a member of Congress perhaps 30 years ago, was a son of William Alexander, and the late Charles A. Given, Esq., a prominent citizen of Little Falls, was a half brother of his.
Gen. Scott Meets an Indian Preacher.-After the close of the Revolution, Indian hostilities continued on the frontiers of Ohio and Kentucky, which had become so aggressive as to call out strong expeditions against them from 1790 to 1794, both years inclusive, to protect the pioneer settlers and punish those Indian depredations. Those expeditions into the Indian country were led by Gens. Harmer, Scott, Wilkinson, St. Clair and Wayne. Harmer was defeated with great loss, which emboldened the enemy to become the more aggressive; nor were the other enterprises crowned with complete success until "Mad Anthony" entered the field. The expedition of Gen. Charles Scott took place in 1791, at which time he was a brigadier; but in Wayne's enterprise in 1794, we find him a Major-General, acting in concert with Gen. Wayne, with whom as a Brigadier he first was associated at the storming of Stony Point in 1 779. He settled in Kentucky.
Many years ago we heard, from a credible source, the following anecdote of this officer. In an official capacity he was, at some place, treating with the Indians, when he fell in with an inquisitive one, who inquired of him, in true Yankee style, the nature of his business, and what pay he got for his services, etc. He answered his questions very candidly, and, in turn, became the interrogator; inquiring of the Indian what he did for a living . His answer was, "Me preach, sometimes." "And how much pay do you get?" asked the General. " O!" he replied, "sometimes me get two shinnin-three shinnin-four shinnin-sometimes dollar." The sums named seemed a mere bagatelle for such service, and Gen. Scott exclaimed with evident surprise: "I should think that was d-d poor pay!" "He be so," said the Indian, "but he d-d poor preach too."
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