History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Frontiersmen of New York
by Jeptha R. Simms
Albany, NY 1883
Volume I, Page 408.
Horse-racing and Foot-racing in the Mohawk Valley settlements.-From 1750 to 1830, for a period of some 75 years, there was much horse-racing in the Mohawk Valley, extending from Schenectada westward through Montgomery and Herkimer counties. Races often lasted several days ending on Saturday night: and in no place were they better enjoyed than at Schenectada. The Low Dutch were famed for horse racing, and even to a proverb for running their horses from the foot of every hill two-thirds of the way up. Often between Schenectada and Albany were several farm wagons or sleighs trying titles for leadership, at the hazard of serious collision.
Of this class of citizens at Schenectada, was the well-to-do burgher Charick Van De Bogert, an honest old gentleman peculiar in many respects. He had a new sleigh made and on its back was painted this sentence in Dutch: "Not to lend today but to-morrow." He had a span of horses which he called Cowper and Crown. In his last illness he had those favorite animals brought to a window of his room and spoke to them. They put their heads in at the window, and after patting them affectionately, they were removed from his sight for the last time. Samuel Steeres, an old friend, was with him in his last illness, and as the end of life was approaching, he was importuned by the dying man to do him a final favor. Said the latter: "When I am dead my friends will want to remove me from the house to the grave on a bier. Have Cowper and Crown harnessed, and at the opportune time, tell the people it was my request that you should take my "remains in my own wagon to the grave." As the nurse was turning away: "Stay a moment," said Van De Bogert, "I have not done yet. You must provide yourself with a hickory gad, and when you pass such a corner, touch the horses with it and give them such a signal, they will understand it and at once dash away." It seemed impossible to excuse himself from his friend's peculiar request, and Steeres agreed to perform it.
Soon after this interview the old burgher died; the day of the funeral arrived, and with it the programme indicated. When the procession was ready, scarcely had it advanced a rod when Cowper and Crown felt the gad, caught their master's private signal for a start, and away they flew, the driver seeming to exert himself greatly to hold them in, while a hundred voices behind were shouting-Whoa! Whoa, Cowper! whoa, Crown! but on went the team. Elliptic springs were then unknown to farm wagons, and the coffin bounded about so as to touch every part of it without actually leaping the box. At the end of a little distance another magic signal easily restrained the well-tutored team, that turned back to meet the expectant crowd, which was following to see the end of this singular drama. The remains of one of " Dorp's " best citizens were soon interred, and thus ended the most remarkable race against time that ever came off in the Mohawk valley. This story was told the writer in 1843 by Joseph N. Yates, of Fultonville, then an old gentleman. He was raised in Schenectada, and blest with a good memory. The event transpired when he was a boy, about a century ago.
A favorite place for horse-racing at an early period was in "John Mabie's lane," in Rotterdam, a few miles westward of Schenectada, near, as supposed, the oldest house in the Mohawk valley.
Other favorite resorts for horse-racing are still remembered. Fort Hunter was one; at Conyne's tavern on the north side of the river, a few miles above Fort Hunter, was another; on the "Sand Flats" above Fonda was a third, which, for a long period, was one of the most celebrated, as its sportsmen came from several townships, Johnstown included. At what was known as "Seeber's Lane," back of Canajoharie, was a place noted for such doings; while, at a little later period, such gatherings were not unfrequent on the Canajoharie Flats, and on George Wagner's Flats in Palatine. In fact, they transpired occasionally sooner or later, on the premises of many a good" farmer. I don't know in what other places in Herkimer county races were held, but, for years, says my antiquarian friend, Samuel Earll, they took place annually every fall as regularly as general training, on the broad flats between the village of Herkimer and the river. There was much drinking and gambling at all those races, and crowds assembled like those seen at county fairs. Schoharie valley also enjoyed such scenes.
At those races the betting was generally in nominal sums, but the excited spectators often swelled them to large figures. One of those races at Conyne's took place on the ice in the river, about the first of April. At a race on the Sand Flats, tradition, said Andrew Cromwell, has preserved the following incident: The German minister then residing at Stone Arabia, a few miles further west, considering it his duty to protest against that species of gambling, which often led to much iniquity, rode there in his chaise with that intent. But hardly had he commenced depicting the evils of the race course to a few listeners, when a wag who knew that the horse of the expostulator had previously been in a similar contest, mounted a fleet horse and, whip in band, rode up, saying: Domine, you have a fine horse there; and, touching both horses with the whip, he shouted, " Go !" and sure enough both horses did go--kiting, as the vulgar phrase has it. Several voices, as they started, were heard shouting: Go it, domine, we'll bet on your horse! The horses were headed toward the parson's home, and, despite all his efforts to restrain him, his horse sped a long distance ere he could bring him up. The wag returned to his companions, who were merry at the ludicrous plight of the poor domine, who, it is needless to say, never again appeared on a race course. Tradition says this was Domine Domier. I have elsewhere shown that, at Seeber's Lane, a man named Abram Lintner was thrown over the head of a stumbling horse and killed. This happened on the 24th of August, 1799. A novel circumstance transpired at one of the later races in the valley. A jockey rider was paid a liberal fee to hold in his horse and let the competing one win; but, despite the rider's efforts to restrain him, the horse would and did win. Numerous accidents and interesting events occurred first and last, at those races, which have fallen into the eddy of forgetfulness.
Here is part of a nicely printed hand-bill for one of the three days' sports, the portion missing being the programme for the first day:
"SECOND DAY'S PURSE, $50
"To be given to the jockey rider, running two-mile heats, winning two heats out of three; free for any horse, mare, or gelding in the United States.
"The third day a new SADDLE and BRIDLE, to be given to the jockey rider running one-mile heats, winning two heats out of three; free for any three-year old colt in the United States.
"Likewise, on the last day, a BEAVER HAT, worth $10, to be given to the jockey footman running round the course in the shortest time. To start at four o'clock, P. M., on the last day's running.
On the first Tuesday in November next, races will commence
on the flats of George Waggoner in Palatine. The purses as above except the
The running round the course for the Hat did not take place, because a Palatine contestant was unwell; and a purse of $30 was made up for a foot-race the distance of one-fourth of a mile. There were four contestants, and the strife was between the towns of Canajoharie and Palatine. From the former town were William Moyer, a tailor, and John K. Diell; and from the latter were a Waggoner and another man, name forgotten. They all started at the tap of a drum, the usual signal then. Diell won the race by six feet, and received the stakes. The time is given as 58 seconds, by Mr. Diell who preserved the hand-bill and furnished me the details of the race. The time seems short, as he would be running at the rate of over fifteen miles an hour.
A Genteel Horse-race.- The last marked trial of horse-speed in this vicinity, until horse-racing made a part of an Agricultural exhibition at our County Fairs, took place in 1830, between Livingston Spraker and Nicholas G. Van Alstine; who on a wager of $100, rode their own horses from the tavern of Joshua Reed at Palatine Bridge, to the public house of Jacob Failing at Upper St. Johnsville, and back. They had to ride round the sign-post. The stakes were held by Abram Hees, and were handed over to Van Alstine, the winner. The time occupied was an hour and fourteen minutes, and whole distance about twenty miles. Van Alstine dismounted and ran up several hills to favor his horse, which Spraker essayed to do, but his horse would not lead and he had to ride him. Van Alstine came in about half a mile ahead.
Foot-racing.-As we have seen horse-racing and foot-racing at times were mingled, but biped races were for a time solely enjoyed. The late William Bleecker, of Fort Plain, assured the writer, that while the canal was being constructed at that place, he witnessed a foot-race between a white man and an Indian. The old river road ran through what is now Willet street, on the northerly side of the canal, and in this road westerly they ran. The Indian was in almost a state of nudity, but the white man won the race. As the canal neared completion foot-races were of frequent occurrence at Canajoharie; in several of which Mr. Diell already mentioned was more or less interested. In one of these races on the tow-path below the village, Nicholas G. Van Alstine was the winner, as his antagonist made a mistep and fell in the canal.
An Important Foot-race.-The most important foot-race that ever took place between white men in the Mohawk Valley, occurred at Canajoharie in the month of August, 1824, between Joseph White of Cherry Valley, and David Spraker of Palatine. They were young men from the best families in the community, and had just graduated from Union College. While there as students, they had often tested their powers in a race of ten rods, and on such occasions Spraker had usually been the winner. White could beat all the other students, and was desirous of exulting over his successful competitor. Having drilled himself for the effort, he challenged Spraker for one. more trial of speed, before they settled down to life's coming cares. The facts relating to this transaction, were mainly derived from John K. Diell, who for a time had much to do with foot-racing.
When Spraker was challenged to this race, he did not care to accept it, but importuned he reluctantly consented to do so, to gratify his friends. The stakes were for $1,000, with a forfeit of $250. The Challenge was accepted two weeks before the time for the trial; and Mr. Deill, who was then teaching school in Sharon, dismissed his school for a time, to train Spraker for the occasion-taking great interest in the result. On the appointed day for the event, a pleasant one, a large crowd, a thousand or more people assembled to witness it. Many from Cherry Valley were there, anxious for the success of their young pedestrian. The course ten rods-55 yards, or 165 feet, was marked off in Montgomery street, commencing at a point nearly in front of the Wagner House, and running westward. There has been some diversity of opinion in the absence of documentary proof, as to whether the course run was easterly or westerly; but Mr. Deill who should know says westerly, and such was the recollection of Herman L Ehle and many others.
David F. Sacia, Esq., measured the ground, and as one of the judges gave the signal to start, which was from the figures 1, 2, 3, which meant go! The race, though a short one, and contested by the action of every muscle, was decided as won by three feet in Spraker's favor, not only by the Judges, whose names are not all remembered, but by all persons at the terminus; and the stakes pending were freely and honorably handed over to Spraker's friends. Much has been said about how the slight gain was made, but Mr. Diell * said it was in the first spring which Spraker made, and which he was barely able to hold to the end. Had they ran twice as far, it was conceded that White, having more physical strength would have been the winner. This was not only the most important, but one of the last foot-races which ever came off in that locality; and has afforded its full measure of gossip for the past half century.
* He was a son of Philip Diell, who settled at Bowman's Creek, now Ames, N. Y. In 1804. Informant, In early life, was a school.master, and still hale at the age of 80; he was, in the spring of 1881, elected town clerk of Cherry Valley.
The actors and nearly all the witnesses of this novel event, have already passed that bourne whence none ever return.
Another Duel.-Tradition says that the ancestor of the Eacker family first locating in the colony of New York, was Jacob Eacker, who, with his family, removed from Schoharie to Palatine at the exodus of Germans from that place about 1723. He is said to have been the father of 21 children. His oldest son George married Eliza, a daughter of George Snell, who died November 21, 1798, aged 72, he having died about the year 1790. He had a son Jacob, who is remembered as a judge of the county. He married Margaret Fink, a daughter of Andrew Fink. He died August 27, 1840, aged 92 years. He had two sons-George I. and Jacob I.-and four daughters--Margaret, who married Harmon Van Slyke; Maria, who married a Wagner; Eliza, who married Jacob Fox, and a fourth who married Peter Brooks, Esq. Jacob I. Eacker married Gertrude, a daughter of George Herkimer, a brother of Gen. Herkimer. Mrs. Eacker died January 29, 1851, at the age of 63, and Eacker died March 8, 1873, at the age of 88.
George I. Eacker fitted for college at Schenectada, read law with Brockholst Livingston, and was admitted to practice law at the age of 21. He had a law office in New York, and was soon engaged in a lucrative business. He had not been long established when he began house-keeping at 50 Wall street, employing a married man and his wife as valet and house-keeper. He soon became exceedingly popular in the young metropolis, then containing some 30,000 inhabitants. For several years his brother Jacob, younger than himself, boarded with him, and went to school, from whom some of these facts were obtained. When, in 1801, the citizens of New York cast about for an orator for the approaching fourth of July, the selection fell upon the young counselor and master in chancery, George I. Eacker, designated by his rivals as the Mohawk Dutchman. At this time Eacker, who was gifted with a manly physique, was Brigade Inspector, and Captain of a splendid company of cavalry, and took a commendable pride in the discharge of his military duties.
The Celebration came off, and the young barrister acquitted himself most creditably; and his ORATION won for him a general ovation of praise, which, from motives of envy, as believed, led to a
Fatal Duel-which was fought-between George I. Eacker and Philip Hamilton. Some writers at that time, in their desire to free fellow partisans from just censure (for party spirit then ran high), labored to cover up the true cause of the duel, by casting stigma upon the young orator, who had been so unfortunate as to kill a son of the renowned Alexander Hamilton; and, during the past 80 years, most writers upon the subject have endeavored to whiten the character of his antagonist by blackening that of Eacker. Here is an extract from an article in the March number of Frank Leslie's Monthly, a few years ago, which is of that kind. "He [Hamilton] had recently graduated from Columbia College with honor, delivering, on the occasion an oration, which had attracted considerable praise. In 1801 a fourth of July orator leveled some exceedingly severe and unjust censure at the elder Hamilton. Philip, happening one evening in company with a friend to enter a box at the theatre, discovered the obnoxious orator near him, when, taking advantage of the occasion, the two young men began to ridicule the orator in question, in loud tones. Enraged at this, the party who had offended them arose [he had not offended them nor spoken to them], and summoned the two into the lobby; " and, as the account further states, called them to a strict account for their ungentlemanly conduct.
Now, for the facts in the case. Eacker was a young Republican-as then called, in contrast with the term Federalist which belonged to both Price and Hamilton. I have before me a copy of the oration delivered by Eacker on this occasion, printed at New York in 1801 ; and its perusal will convince any unprejudiced mind that it was the production of a more than ordinary intellect. It is well written, and glows from beginning to end with patriotism and a zealous invocation for the guardianship of our national liberty, achieved at so great a cost of treasure and blood. I fail to see any allusion to Alexander Hamilton; and think it would require a torturous stretch of truth to apply any of its well clad aphorisms to the person of the elder Hamilton. Here are several sentences quoted, to give the reader some idea of its general character.
"How interesting a spectacle does America this day afford to the philanthropist, whose enlarged mind embraces the general welfare of the human race. He sees a whole nation engaged in rendering public homage to Freedom-a whole people employed in rendering solemn protestations and vows to Heaven, never to become unworthy of this its choicest blessing. Nothing among the ancients or moderns, perfectly resembles or equals a national commemoration of emancipation from foreign thraldom. Among the former, superstitious Paganism instituted olympic and secular games; among the latter, the bigotry of priests invented the jubilees of unhallowed festivity." * * * * *
"The birth-day of our Independence, naturally combines a recollection of the past with serious thoughts on the present, and those with a speculative anticipation of future events. We are irresistibly led to take a retrospective view of the awful situation of the United States, when the declaration, now read, was announced to an admiring and applauding world. We cannot but rejoice in the contemplation of existing peace-we cannot but indulge in golden prophesies of extended happiness and indefinite improvement. The Revolutionary contest was terrible-the present period is bright and luminous: what the future will be, is not unworthy of our anxious thoughts." * *
" Humanity lost its influence over the rash counsels of our implacable enemy. The savages of the wilderness were instigated to bury the tomahawk in the bosom of our unprotected frontier citizens-sparing neither innocent children nor defenceless women, they committed horrors at which nature revolts; at which the genius of England, boasting of its superiority in civilization and refinement, must forever blush." * * *
After invoking the spirits of a Washington, a Montgomery, a Warren, a Mercer, a Franklin and all departed worthies, to watch with anxious solicitude, and guard the country against innovations tending to the establishment of an aristocracy, he adds: "Happy country! fortunate in such meditation and advice; as long as thou art worthy thereof, thou shalt not see pampered luxury of wealth contrasted with extreme poverty and wretchedness: injustice armed to destroy the smiling labors of industry-sanguinary despotism sport with the rights of men, or proud ambition trample upon human happiness." * * *
After hinting at the breakers which the country had fortunately escaped, he closed with the following sentence: "O, Americans! offer up to the Supreme dispenser of human affairs your fervent prayers, that he may retard the moment to a far distant period when our land shall be sunk in guilt, corruption and slavery; when our empire, the pride and glory of the world, shall be extinguished forever."
At this period Eacker was the affianced of a Miss Livingston, a sister of Schuyler Livingston, and a sister of the wife of William Qutting, and waited upon her on Friday evening, November 20, 1801, to a theatre. They had not been long in a box, when Philip Hamilton-then in his twentieth year-and his friend Price (whose age and given name are not preserved) entered the same box. It soon became evident that they had come there solely to insult Eacker in the presence of his intended. Pretending not to notice them, after a while they left the box; but at a later hour they came from the opposite side of the house into the box again. They now renewed their insults in louder tones-even mentioning. his name-their tirade of abuse running much as follows: How did you like Eacker's sour-kraut oration on the fourth of July? The answer placed it in a very low scale. What will you give for a printed copy of it.? About a sixpence was the reply. Don't you think the Mohawk Dutchman is a greater man than Washington was? Yes, far greater. I don't pretend that I can give the precise language of those jackanapes but I do claim that here is a fair specimen of the style of their slang. Eacker's brother, and others of his time, assured me years ago that" sour-krout," "six-penny oration," "Mohawk Dutchman," and other similar words were upon their malicious tongues. His tormentors knew that he was growing in popularity among the laboring classes; hence a reason why he must be humbled, and how do it more effectually than in a theatre, in the presence of his lady-love. Indeed, their manner, if possible, was more offensive than their language, and both were such as no gentleman could honorably put up with.
Peter Brook's, a merchant at Newville, Herkimer county, a personal friend of Eacker, chanced to be with him at the theatre; and leaving Miss Livingston in his care, he called Hamilton out into the lobby, whither Price followed. As Eacker left the theatre, greatly excited, he was heard to say: "Is it not abominable, to be thus insulted by rascals?" In the lobby they both demanded of Eacker who he called rascals. "You are both d-d rascals," said E., "or you would not treat me in the manner you have!" They pretended great offense at the epithet, and, but for the interference of bystanders, it was believed the offending party would have assaulted the person of Eacker. Anxious to avoid a quarrel, and in such a place, the latter told his antagonists that he lived at No. 50 Wall street. We care nothing for your residence, was their reply to Eacker, who not only desired them to make' less noise, but proposed going to the "City Tavern" (the City hotel in Broadway now occupies its site). Thither they all went, no doubt followed by friends who were disposed to see fair play. At the inn Eacker asked them" if they entered the box the second time expressly to insult him? That is nothing to the purpose, they replied, justifying their conduct; but again demanded which of them he meant to call a rascal? He reapplied the epithet to both of them, for their ungentlemanly conduct.
After a short war of words they left the inn, Price and Hamilton being so boisterous that they were drawing a crowd; and 'When turning to leave them, Eacker said: "I shall expect to hear from you again?" "That you shall!" was the instant reply, and Eacker returned to the theatre. He had been there but a short time, when he received a written challenge from Price to fight a duel on Sunday, November 22d, at 12 M. It was accepted, and they met at Powle's Hook, where they exchanged four shots each, without injury to either, when their seconds interfered and withdrew the belligerents, Before this duel took place, Eacker also received a challenge from Hamilton-which he held in abeyance until the first was disposed of-when he accepted that; and on :Monday, November 23d, at 3 P. M., they met at the same place, and, on the first fire, Hamilton fell with a ball through his body, near the navel. He lingered until the next morning, and died, it is said, quite reconciled to his fate. The seconds in the first duel were, for Eacker, Mr. Lawrence; and, for Price, James Lynch. In the second meeting, for Eacker, Mr. Cooper; and, for Hamilton, David Jones.
An effort was at once made by the friends of Hamilton to exonerate him from blame on account of his age, and, so far as possible, to cast it upon Eacker, who was seven years his senior; but if, in his riper manhood, he had tamely submitted to such wanton and public insults, the best men of that era of false notions of honor would have stigmatized him as a poltroon and a coward. And had Hamilton been from an unknown family, public sentiment would at once have declared that ne had met a just fate, his own imprudence and folty had drawn upon him. But, as before observed, political envy had most to do in bringing about this tragic result. As appears by the published accounts at the time; a Mr. Lawrence, a gentleman of standing, and a friend of Eacker, was also with him in the theatre when the insults were given, and it is reasonable to conclude that he followed the young men to see fair play. From his statement and that of other friends, it is evident that Eacker was grossly insulted, that the insult was followed by a written challenge, and that no overtures were made by the aggressor or his friends to make the least concession to prevent the fatal meeting. Very much appeared in the New York newspapers at the time about this unhappy affair. In fact, H. B. Dawson, Esq., in the October number of his Historical Magazine of 1867, took pains to collate most of the newspaper articles published at that period on the subject; and yet, in no part of it, was there any pretense that Hamilton was induced to insult Eacker for any allusion in his oration to his father; he could not, for indeed there was none.
As an evidence that Gen. Hamilton did not blame Eacker for the death of his son-who he knew was wholly in the fault-he ever after treated him with marked respect; and Joseph Herkimer, Esq., a nephew of Gen. Herkimer, observed to a friend, that he never witnessed more especial compliments or respectful greetings pass between lawyers, than did between Gen. Hamilton and Eacker after the event of his son's death. As Eacker wasted away with consumption in a couple of years, it was supposed by many that he grieved himself to death; but his brother who was with him at New York at the time of his death-set the matter in a very different light. When spoken to on the subject, he was heard to regret the event and its cause, but told his friends that under the same circumstances he would fight again. Said his brother, in January, 1802, as a prominent member of the fire department, Capt. Eacker was on the roof of a friend's house at a raging fire, directing the action of the firemen. It was a bitter cold night; he was wet to the skin; indeed, hi; clothes were frozen on his person; he took a severe cold, which he hoped the return of warm weather would remove, but it settled upon his lungs and he died the next season.
The funeral of Eacker took place from his Wall street residence, and was a very imposing one. He was not only a military man and a fireman, but a member of the " Howard Lodge" of Free Masons, large delegations of each order being in the procession; Col. Boyd, an officer of the Revolution, acted as marshal on the occasion. His remains were interred in the little yard back of St. Paul's church, in Broadway, and a volley of musketry rattled over the grave. A fine portrait of Capt. Eacker, executed when he was attired as Brigade Inspector, was long in the family near Palatine- Bridge, and is believed to be still extant in one of the western States.
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