Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

The Frontiersmen of New York
by Jeptha R. Simms
Albany, NY 1883

Volume I, Page 437

A Spook Story and Terrible Scare.-I have elsewhere spoken of Benjamin Nihoof as the last of the Mohawk river boatmen, and of his fearlessness as such; but at night in the presence of death, he was cowardly. Here is an event going to prove his timidity. In the fall of the year, about 1825, a man named Abram Van Derwarker died at his residence-a small dwelling on the hill of the Oswegatchie road, one third of a mile from its intersection with the turnpike below Palatine Bridge.. The house was burned down a few years ago. When this man died, it was the custom to have watchers sit up with a corpse, usually in pairs-and I may add that generally a lunch was prepared by the family for such watchers. On the occasion named, Benjamin Nihoof and James Harris, neighbors, went on a moonlight evening to watch with the corps of Van Derwaker.

I have somewhere spoken of the old Weatherby tavern stand, which stood on the turnpike below its junction with the Oswegatchie road, and in which Nihoof, and Harris, as believed, were living. "Jim" was not to be terrified by anything above ground by day or night; but he was a was fond of mirth, and resolved on the occasion to test the courage and pluck of "Ben." The family had retired, and about 10 o'clock, Jim said to Ben: "We'll need more fuel before morning, which of us shall go to the wood-pile and get an armful?" The wood was a little distance from the house, and Ben said he would go: which placed the matter just as his companion desired. The corps rested upon a board, the ends of which were laid upon two chairs, and over it was thrown a white sheet falling to the floor. Without a moment's delay, Jim ensconced himself under the board; and the next moment he heard his comrade enter the room. Quick as thought the eye of Uncle Ben took in the objects of the room; not seeing Jim but at the moment observing the corpse to be raising up and down as though suddenly re-animated-without going to the fire-place to deposit his wood, he dropped it unceremoniously upon the floor: and feeling his hat lifted upon his head, he cleared the door with a bound and took leg-bail for home.

By going across the fields he would save quite an angle in the distance, and he took the shortest route to his own home. Part of the way his course was over a rocky inequality, that cost him several plunges and some bruises, but before the ghost he fancied was pursuing, could quite overtake him, he was up and away: yet in the dim light which fell between rock and tree, his imagination conjured up many a weird hobgoblin. In such a race with humanity instead of irrationality, Uncle Ben would have distanced all competition-as it was he made a wonderful race against time and an evil-genii; and quite exhausted he reached his own door, raised the latch and fell head-long and speechless on its threshold. At that period outside doors of dwellings were seldom ever locked. His wife who was a good motherly woman awoke, as the reader may suppose, terror-stricken, and with the belief that something dreadful had transpired, as she found her liege-lord in such a plight.

Her gentle voice soon reassured him-with her assistance he regained his feet and soon self-possession to tell, in broken sentences what had happened. She readily guessed at the trick of Harris, quieted his fears and soon got him into bed-possibly on the side next the wall, and a few hours sleep restored him to his wonted cheerfulness. He soon got over his bruises and was the same confiding Uncle Ben. He held a little grudge against Harris, however, for sometime, until quidnuncs ceased to bore him. When the writer teased him late in life about that awful night, he laughed until tears ran down his cheeks, with the exclamation: "There's no use in my denying the fact-I was terribly scared that night."

Dabbling in Sapphic.-The following parody on the Ode of Horace, commencing 'Olium divas rogat," was written at the Canajoharie, or Upper Castle, in the year 1761, by the elder Capt. Morris, and sent to his friend Lieut. Montgomery-afterwards Gen. Richard Montgomery-who fell at Quebec. Where the latter was stationed does not appear. The time and place of writing, make the lines worthy of preservation:

Ease is the prayer of him, who in a whale boa
Crossing Lake Champlain by a storm o'ertaken,
Not struck his blanket, * not a friendly island
Near to receive him.

Ease is the wish, too, of the sly Canadian,
Ease the delight of the bloody Caghnawagas,
Ease, Richard, ease, not to be bought with wampum
Or paper money.

Not Colonel's pay, nor yet a dapper sergeant,
Orderly waiting with recovered halberd,
Can chase the crowd of troubles still surrounding,
Lac'd regimentals.

That Sub. lives best, who, with a sash in tatters,
Worn by his grandsire at the siege of Blenheim,
To fear a stranger and to wild ambition,
Snores on a bearskin.

Why like fine fellows are we ever scheming?
We short liv'd mortals, why so fond of climates
Warm'd by new suns? O, who, that runs from home,
Runs from himself too.

Care climbs Radeuax, + with four and twenty pounders,
Nor quits our light troops, or our Indian warriors,
Swifter than moose deer, or the fleeter east wind,
Pushing the clouds on.

He whose good humor can enjoy the present,
Scorns to look forward, with a smile of patience
Tempering the bitter. Bliss uninterrupted
None can inherit.

Death instantaneous hurried off Achilles,
Age far extended wore away Tithonus,
Who will live longer, thou or I, Montgomery?
Dicky or Tommy?

Thee, twenty messmates, full of noise and laughter,
Cheer with their sallies: thee the merry damsels
Please with their titt'ring, whilst thou sitst adorn'd with
Boots, sash and gorget.

Me to Fort Hendrick, 'midst a savage nation,
Dull Canajoharry, cruel fate has driven.
O think on Morris, in a lonely chamber,
Dabbling in Sapphic.

* The soldier's blanket, used by the army as a sail.
+ Floating batteries used on Lake Champlain. (X see below.)

X Note: The poet is referring to the mounting of cannon in barges or gondola. This technique was used by B.Arnold during his successful effort to slow the advance of the British invaders up Lake Champlain, Oct. 1776.
Copyright 1998, -- 2003. Berry Enterprises. All rights reserved. All items on the site are copyrighted. While we welcome you to use the information provided on this web site by copying it, or downloading it; this information is copyrighted and not to be reproduced for distribution, sale, or profit.

Contents Introduction Links Home