1829, Part 4
New York City / State Timeline
from Eagles Byte by David Minor
Year-by-year tracing the growth of the early days of the Republic
The City Hotel, where James Stuart stayed on his first visit to New York City last year had another guest now in 1829. John Lansing, Jr.'s family was old Albany aristocracy, dating back to the 1660s. The 75-year-old retired jurist had been an ensign in the American Revolution, where he served as secretary to General Philip Schuyler. After the war he'd been elected to the state assembly, in the late 1780s serving simultaneously as speaker and as Albany's mayor. He'd also been a delegate to the U. S. Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia but, not having a clear mandate from the state, leaving before ratification. He'd gone on to serve on the state supreme court then accepted the post of Chancellor of New York State, retiring in 1814. Through the years he'd acquired large sections of land north of Troy (today's Lansingburgh) and in the Schoharie River valley to the west of Schenectady.
It's possible that over the past year or two he'd come across news items in the overseas section of New York newspapers back in January referring to an execution in Edinburgh. Huge crowds gathered on the 28th to watch Irish-born peddlar William Burke exterminated. It had been discovered that in the past year his primary stock in trade was dead people. Working with lodging house keeper William Hare, he'd taken the body of an elderly lodger and selling it to a local surgeon who ran dissecting rooms for the training of doctors. The seven-plus pounds sterling they were paid for the corpse brought out the entrepreneurial spirit in the pair and they'd soon sold another sixteen of the newly-departed, mostly women. Newly-departed that is at the hands of the two men.
When their lethal venture was discovered and the two arrested, Hare agreed to a plea bargain offer and was spirited away to protect him against mob violence. Burke's more violent and final departure delighted the huge crowds - some estimates put the number at close to 40,000 - gathered for the public execution. After Burke danced on air for a short while he had one more service to perform for the medical profession. The body was taken to the medical school rooms where a number of doctors examined the corpse - some making sketches - then a number of students were allowed in to watch as the top of the dead man's head was surgically removed for a lesson on the human brain. Other young fans of the anatomical arts, kept out of the building for lack of space, began attacking the police and it wasn't until the town council intervened and promised everyone a good look that order was restored.
Violent death was no stranger to New Yorkers, but the news from Scotland had put people on edge. As the Manhattan diarist calling himself Octogenarian noted, "With Burke's deeds fresh in memory, it was easy to connect horrid imaginings with the stories, either true or false, of unexplained disappearances in New York, and thus a great excitement and wide-spread terror were engendered. Women and children never ventured forth alone after nightfall, and citizens generally were armed during their evening walks, though only with heavy sticks."
Judge John Lansing was preparing to return to Albany in time for the holidays. On December 12th he walked out of the City Hotel to mail some letters. He was never seen again.
We left James Stuart a few weeks ago enjoying his haggis in a Nassau Street tavern. As September 1829 drew to a close, wanderlust once again caught him up and he left Westchester, heading north a third time. He'd made the previous trips by steamboat, thereby missing many of the communities along the way. "I set about preparing for our expedition. The hacks or hackney-coaches of New York are admirably suited for such an expedition as this. They are light, some of them not above 1100 pounds weight, the roof being supported upon a metal frame. Curtains are let down in a moment in case of rain, or for protection from the sun."
Stuart took his wife along this time. Departing from New Rochelle they boarded a hack owned by a Hugh Duffie and set off across Westchester County. Since Stuart doesn't mention passing through Yonkers or White Plains they probably headed straight northwest, hitting the Hudson River south of Tarrytown. Stuart will later recount the story of the capture of Major Andre here at Tarrytown during the American Revolution - his sympathies naturally enough with Andre. The Stuarts didn't tarry in Tarrytown (Sorry!!) but pushed on to Sing-Sing, where Stuart, an avid student of penal systems, notes that the 480-foot-long facility is still not completely finished, the prisoners being put to work all day hewing rock and finishing walls. The main cell building must have looked familiar, having been modeled by architect John Carpenter after one wing of Auburn Prison, which Stuart toured last year. Although the town of Ossining would not be incorporated for another sixteen years, a small community must have already grown up around the prison, for Stuart mentions stopping in at a local bookseller. It wasn't just idle curiosity, he was looking for a copy of this year's annual report on Auburn Prison, required by law for all state penal installations. The bookseller has none in stock but since Stuart mentioned he's on his way to Albany, he should be able to pick up a copy from the secretary of state's office in the capital.
The party pushes on, crossing the Croton River at Van Cortlandt Manor. "We proceeded in the evening to a second rate hotel, near the village of Croton, kept by civil people, of the name of Macleod". Apart from the manor house there would have been little else there except for a Quaker meeting house and a few mills and brickyards. After a simple supper Mrs. Macleod brought in her son and two daughters to see the strangers. The Stuarts found them to be quite well-educated, with the eldest daughter well-versed in geography.
The next day, after a hearty breakfast they were on the road again, heading for Verplanck a few miles further up the Hudson. Stuart had seen the point of land that poked out into the river when he'd come this way by boat earlier and was anxious to check out the area. They soon passed onto private property, in order to get closer to the river, and eventually encountered a fork in the road. Puzzled as to which direction to take, they asked a group of hands spreading manure in a field from the back of a wagon for directions. It turned out that the driver was one of the Verplancks, owner of extensive lands on both sides of the river. Stuart was surprised. He'd expect landowners out in the west to work out in the fields along with their hired hands, but not here in the settled east. Stuart was relieved that Verplanck had the extreme good taste to avoid discomforting his visitor and, "made no allusion whatever to the employment in which we found him engaged". Some things gentlemen just do not discuss.
The Mr. Verplanck that the Stuarts met in late September 1829, helping his hired hands spread manure from the back of a wagon, would have been a Mr. Philip Verplanck. One of several with the same given name, his family had owned Verplanck's Point since the 1680s when Dutch fur trading partners Gulian Verplanck and Francis Rombout purchased 85,000 acres of land from the Wappinger Indians in today's Dutchess County. Around this time Verplanck also bought a point of land at the northern end of the Hudson's Haverstraw Bay, which he passed on down the byways of the family tree. Philip Verplanck had inherited the land last year as well as some land at Stony Point, across the Hudson. Since then he had been making improvements to the property, perhaps with an eye to a future sale.
Learning the Stuarts were visiting from Britain he left the manure wagon to the hands and accompanied his drop-in guests over to the river bank, inviting them to park on the wide lawn in front of the large house. The property contained close to twenty outbuildings, many used as offices. After a brief visit the Stuarts left him to his work, headed back to the main road and headed north again. They stopped for their midday meal at Peekskill, Stuart topping it off with a brandy. He notes that most inns they stopped at had a small library. Always interested in what people found important, he noted here an eclectic mix of the ever-popular Pilgrim's Progress, the works of Byron (very fashionable in these few years after the poet's death in Greece), two English prayer books and Nathan Smith's recent "Practical Essays on Typhus Fever".
It was early evening when they arrived at Phillipstown, in today's Cold Spring, after spending nearly four hours in the coach, traveling east of Anthony's Nose through orchard-strewn hillsides. After a simple late supper of coffee, bread and butter, grape and peach jelly, and cheese at an apparently indifferent hostelry, they were off to bed. The next morning as they headed out, Stuart learned that had they gone just another mile further they could have stayed at Horseborough's house, a splendid home that had once belonged to the loyalist Beverly Robinson. (Beverly being a more common man's name in that century). Forty-nine years earlier George Washington had arrived late for a meeting here with the then current resident Benedict Arnold, busy escaping across the river on his way to becoming a household name.
The Stuarts waited until they got to Fishkill to have breakfast. By the time they arrived at the four-year-old Mansion-house at Fishkill, the other lodgers had already eaten, but the kitchen quickly put together, "one of the best breakfasts I ever saw". For once he didn't provide the gustatory details. Now they were in true Verplanck country, Fishkill being part of the original purchase of 1683. The actual Verplanck family mansion, Mount Gulian, was in nearby Beacon, closer to the river. Last year, about the time the Stuarts were steaming up the Hudson to Albany, another traveler arrived at Mount Gulian. 35-year-old escaped Maryland slave James Brown had fled to New York City and found employment as a coachman and waiter for the Verplancks. They shipped him up to the family country house and hired him to work as head gardener. When he was recognized by a guest this year, the family arranged to purchase his freedom. He would live on at the estate, soon purchase his wife's freedom, and keep a journal until after the Civil War, thus providing the site's most detailed chronicles.
After leaving Fishkill, New York, the Stuarts and their driver headed north again. Stuart found that the hilly road to Poughkeepsie reminded him of his home country. With some differences. "Many of the passes are narrow, and remind a traveller of defiles of the same kind in the Highlands of Scotland. The mountains of Scotland are far more magnificent, for there is no elevation here above 1500 or 1600 feet in height; but there is no such river in the Highlands of Scotland as the Hudson."
They halted their journey in Poughkeepsie at the end of the morning, eating at Swift's Hotel, "as handsomely furnished as any country hotel I have seen anywhere. A piano forte is in the parlour." By this time the village had a population of close to 7,000 people. There were three weekly newspapers in town, but in order to save on the cost of delivery all three came out on Wednesdays. Which kept carrier John Cornish busy just once a week. It would be a while before the publishers would catch on to the fact that they could collectively sell more papers each week if they didn't all three carry the same news. Cornish and his successors would do better financially as well. The Stuarts were probably unaware of all this; they moved on right after their midday meal.
As they passed Hyde Park on their way towards Rhinebeck, Stuart apparently knew that his recent acquaintance, Dr. David Hosack, was not just then in residence, for he mentions no effort to accept Hosack's offer of hospitality. He does comment on the site's beauty and mentions, "views, ending with the Catskill mountains in the distance, that can hardly be surpassed." He notes that, "A great number of workmen are at present employed by him in extensive improvements upon the grounds, and the enlargement of his mansion-house." A later tourist named Harriet Martineau, who traveled through the state in the mid-1830s, comments on the Hosack mansion. "Dr. Hosack's good taste led him to leave it alone, and to spend his pains on the gardens and conservatory behind." Martineau, by the way, seems to be a soul-mate of James Stuart, also very interested in Auburn Prison.
With September giving way to October (Stuart doesn't give exact dates) the nights were quite bit cooler, especially here in the upper elevations, and the air was cold as they arrived at Jacob's Hotel at Rhinebeck, in time for dinner. Reading that in Stuart's published journal and being a curious person (put your own interpretation on THAT), I started poking around in some old Rhinebeck histories to see if I could find who this Jacob was. I didn't find anything which, of course, proves nothing. However. If you know Rhinebeck at all, you're familiar with the Beekman Arms. In 1766, Arent Traphagen moved his father's inn from the fringes of Ryn Beck to the main intersection, several miles uphill from the river. The southwest corner. At the time of the Revolution it was run by a man with the rather rhythmic name of Everadus Bogardus and called the Bogardus Inn. In the early 1800s it was run by a couple with the last name of Jacques. Today it's still in operation as the Beekman Arms and claims to be the oldest, continually operating tavern in the United States. Fans of the Wayside Inn of Massachusetts strenuously believe otherwise, and bar bets over that question will never be settled to everyone's satisfaction. What I'm wondering is this. When Stuart sat down to publish his travels four years after his stay here, did he perhaps rely on an only human memory, and Scot-icize (or his equivalent of Anglicize) the name Jacques into Jacob? We may never know.
© 2008, David Minor