1829, Part 5
New York City / State Timeline
from Eagles Byte by David Minor
Year-by-year tracing the growth of the early days of the Republic
As James Stuart and his wife sat down to supper in Rhinebeck, New York, one chilly early fall evening of 1829, the landlord brought in another place setting, for a nearby corner table. Stuart was a bit surprised when their hack driver Hugh Duffie was shown to the table. "I presume this was done on account of the room being rendered more comfortable by the fire we were enjoying. The driver is a very modest person, and made his exit as soon as he had finished his meal." Hugh obviously knew his place.
Stuart comments on the prosperity of the countryside they've covered so far, stating that they haven't, "seen any thing like a poor man's house, or a beggar, or any one who did not seem to be well-clothed and fed. As few people are walking on the public road as in other parts of this country: all are on horseback, or in their dearborns, or other carriages." Stuart's 'dearborn' was a light, four-wheeled carriage with curtained sides. It had been named for US Secretary of War Henry Dearborn, who had died back at the beginning of the summer. The Michigan city would also be named for him, but not for another eighteen years.
The next morning, a Sunday, they woke up to temperatures only in the mid-forties. Hugh brought the carriage around front and they headed north to have breakfast just beyond the Hudson River village of Red Hook; not to be confused with the Brooklyn neighborhood with the same name. They stopped at a small hotel - perhaps the Red Hook Hotel, which had many owners. The place seemed to be closed and it was quite a while before anyone answered repeated knocks on the door. It was owner Garret Cucks who finally answered. His son and daughter were off teaching Sunday School nearby, but Cucks hurried right off and brought them home. Soon a fire blazed on the hearth and the Stuarts were served with four eggs apiece, and preserves. When Stuart complimented the family on their orchards the Cucks offered them as many apples as they could carry. Stuart comments at length on the unpretentious hospitality they were shown everywhere in the states. As they were leaving, the Cucks family departed in their carriage for church services in Rhinebeck. Stuart concedes he himself would walk the short distance under such conditions, "but custom regulates everything, and no one walks in this country." Things haven't changed all that much, I guess.
The travelers arrived in the city of Hudson, but found they were late for afternoon services. Hugh Duffie brought them to Bryan's Hotel for the night. One of the larger settlements along the river, Hudson is a true city, the state's third earliest - having been incorporated as such in 1785 - with a population between five and six thousand. It had been founded several years before that as Claverack Landing, by whaling ship captains and fishermen as a refuge from the British navy. The Hudson Academy - high school to us - had been founded here in 1805 and a city library opened around 1800. Boats were being built here and at some point there was more shipping activity going on than in Manhattan. The Stuarts thought the hotel was excellent, but noisy. They were used to Hudson Valley residents keeping early hours and sleeping quietly through the night. But. Wouldn't you know it? "These rooms were filled with lawyers on the circuit, who, in this as in all other countries, acquire confidence, from the nature, I presume, of the professional duties imposed upon them, become more assuming, attach greater importance to their opinions, and give themselves greater airs, than any other description of professional persons."
After being legally deprived of some sleep (chatty lawyers) the Stuarts arose early the next morning and plowed ahead, breaking their fast at Lewis's Hotel in Kinderhook, lunching fourteen miles further on, at Richardson's Hotel across from Albany, then making Troy by evening, where they checked into Troy House, a hotel near the river on First Street, run by Platt Titus. Stage lines to Albany had been departing from in front of Troy House since the early days of the century, so the Stuarts were staying right in one of the main hubs of activity. He briefly describes Troy, "a considerable city, and the greatest erected upon the alluvial banks of the Hudson,--in fact, it is not above eight or ten feet above the level of high water-mark about six miles above Albany. The population has increased from 3000 or 4000 in 1810, to 11,000 or 12,000 at the present time." He also mentions Mount Ida, rising to the east above the city to a height of about 400 feet.
Stuart considers the Titus establishment well-run and adds, "for the first time, since we left New York, we found bells in the house,--which are a positive annoyance to those for some time unaccustomed to their noise." Meaning himself, we presume. "There are also male waiters here." And he hadn't escaped voluble night-owl lawyers either, circuit court having followed him here to Troy. In spite of bells and brief pushers he seemed to manage to sleep well enough this time. At seven the following morning the Stuarts had breakfast in the dining room, surrounded by, "those engaged in the business, judges, clerks, lawyers. . . . I had no conversation with any of the lawyers at breakfast; but in the course of the forenoon I looked into the court. Three judges were upon the bench; and a proof was taking in presence of a jury respecting a mill-dam. As soon as I was observed in the interior of the court, though merely as a stranger, one of the clerks, or other officers of the court, beckoned to me, and then rose and insisted I should have a seat close to the table. He explained to me the particulars of the case, which were not sufficiently interesting to detain me long." Us either. He does insert a little treatise on court procedures, the main difference between here and Scotland being the use of civilians in New York rather than other lawyers, as assistant-advisers to the judges. In both countries the juries still make the final determination. He mentions that the court building is old and quite run down but that construction is under way on a new one. Building had begun last year but completion was still some months off.
Stuart and his wife wander off to do a bit of exploring. No more able to stay out of a bookstore than I am, he heads across the street from the hotel and down a few doors to pay a visit to Parker and Bliss's establishment, enters and stops to chat with William Parker. The co-proprietor is an agent of New York City's G. & C. Carvill company, publisher of the Library of Useful Knowledge. When he learns his visitor is British (How did he tell?) he asks about Henry Peter Brougham, English abolitionist and one of the reference works' chief authors. Stuart would not have known Brougham but is flattered for his countryman that Parker considers the Englishman's works the finest in the language, second only to the Bible (he IS a salesman, after all). The work has sold close to 10,000 copies in New York, Stuart's told. A number probably can be found here in Troy, what with Parker's zeal and the city's Willard Female Seminary, Rensselaer School (later RPI) and Lyceum of Natural History.
We'll continue our Trojan education next time.
Mr. and Mrs. James Stuart continue their exploration of 1829 Troy, New York, climbing toward the summit of Mount Ida (most locals call it Ida Hill). He commends the view of the city, river and countryside, commenting that the land, covered in pine and cedar, was considered until recently to be infertile, but similar land nearby in Kinderhook has proved to be quite productive when managed well and manured properly.
Partway to the top their climb is interrupted by a fence, so they head for a cottage to request permission to continue further. The tenants prove to be fellow Scots who, like Stuart, arrived last year, but several months earlier. The Stuarts chat for a while with the Craigs, who had found work superintending the farm on the hillside for the owner shortly after their arrival here. It can't be an easy job, since the hill is mainly formed of clay - although Stuart doesn't mention the latter fact - but the Craigs are making a go of it. Later in the century the unstable clay will result in several landslides, reducing the overall size of the hill somewhat.
Sometime before exploring the hill, excuse me, mountain, and heading north to Lansingburgh, our Scotsman has made a few real estate inquiries and discovered that a 65 x 25-foot tenement building has recently sold for $4,000. Untempted, he and his wife climb back into their carriage and, after short ride, cross the Hudson on the twenty-five year-old Union Bridge, an 800-foot covered wooden affair that had originally cost $20,000. Later it would also be known as the Waterford Bridge. They head inland a few miles to view the falls at Cohoes, which they missed seeing last year during their brief ride on the Erie Canal. He mentions seven locks in three-and-a-half miles and he should know - they had convinced him then that canal travel wasn't for James Stuart.
On his visit to Albany last year Stuart found the rooms at the Eagle Hotel to be rather meagrely funished, so he decides on a change, putting up at the boarding house run by Leverett Cruttenden, further uphill on Capitol Sqaure, where Lafayette had stayed five years earlier. Good enough for a marquis it proved equally satisfying to Stuart, who mentioned, "comfortable accommodation . . . and as good a tea and supper as we had seen anywhere." Best of all, "I was asked . . . for the first time in the United States, whether we preferred to sleep on a mattrass or feather bed."
Cruttenden stops by to chat with Stuart, who describes his host as, "a frank, John Bull looking personage, very fond of Scotch songs and of Burns's poetry." Like the good Scotsmen they are, they discuss local prices, "A goose sometimes to be had for a shilling Sterling, and a turkey for two shillings."
The next morning Stuart—probably with future publication of his travels in mind—has a quest to take up again, his current holy grail, this year's annual report on Auburn Prison. Following the Sing Sing (Ossining) bookseller's suggestion he pays call on the office of the state's secretary of state. The great man (whom Staurt neglects to identify by name) is apparently not there, but a clerk fields Stuart's request. Albany's reputation for complicating the simplest of matters is not unearned; Stuart is told that all the copies have been given away. We'll follow up on his mission next time.
When traveler James Stuart is informed by the New York State secretary of state's office in Albany in September, 1829, that all copies of the annual Auburn Prison report have been given away, he's also told that the nearby state printer's office may have a copy. Off he heads down the hill and enters the print shop. "The printer doubted whether he had more than one copy to keep, and he rummaged everywhere without success. I told him this was very provoking for me, who had got the previous reports, and wished to have the last report put up with them, that I might carry them together to Britain. My last remark put things at once to rights. The printer could not think of allowing me to go home without the paper; and he absolutely deprived himself of the only copy he had, in order to complete my set. I stupidly neglected to mark the name of this very obliging person."
His quest fulfilled, the Stuarts prepared to set out down the west bank of the Hudson on their way back to their temporary New Rochelle home. We'll dispense with their guide services at this point to explore the northern, central and western parts of the state on our own. The couple, along with their hack driver Hugh Duffie, will stop for meals and/or lodging at New Baltimore, Catskill, Saugerties (on October 1), Kingston, and Newburgh, then crossing the river back into New York at New Jersey. The entire ten-day journey had cost them $98.00 including Duffie's services.
Their boarding house was closing for the winter so they move to another nearby, staying until December and making a visit to the cottage of the late (1809) Thomas Paine. Then they're off again, really long-distance, traveling through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana, returning to New York the following summer, where we'll have a reunion with them at some future date. But now we're on our own.
Back at the beginning of the year Albany's mayor Charles Edward Dudley had been elected to the United States Senate, to take the place of Martin Van Buren, who was now governor. Banker John Townsend was chosen by the voters to serve in Dudley's office and a short time later had laid the cornerstone for the new City Hall (a fire would destroy it 61 years later). This year also saw the election of a new Albany County sheriff. His name is tucked away somewhere in the county archives but it's the name (and nationality) of the person he defeated that's of most interest. War of 1812 veteran James Maher lost the election by an extremely narrow margin. One of the first Irish candidates for any local office (there would be many more to come) his near-miss was another signal of the slowly weakening influence of the Dutch patrician families in the state's capital region.
New political-geographical landscapes were forming as well. Part of the funding for the new city hall had been secured in May, when the state government paid $175,000 to the city of Albany to relinquish rights to the land where the state capital building stands and to the park surrounding it. Of greater importance is the growing feeling that the state's capital should be moved out of Albany to some city closer to the geographical center of the state. Hasn't happened yet, of course.
© 2008, David Minor