David Buel.

Troy for fifty years : a lecture, delivered before the Young Men's Association of the city of Troy, on the 21st December, 1840 online

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DECEMBER 21, 1840.






On the 21st December, 1840.

Published at the request of the Executive Committee of the Association.

5 TROY, N. Y.: V^^^-




Rooms of the Troy Yottn'g Men's Associatio.n, )
December 24, 1S4U. j

Dear Sir :
At a meeting of the Executive Committee last evening, it was unanimously
" Resolved, That the Committee on Lectures tender the thanks of tlie Associa-
tion to David Bijel, Jun., Esq., for the able and highly interesting Lecture delivered
by him before the Association, on the evening of Monday, the 21sl inst., and
request a copy for publication."

The undersigned, believing that the Address, which was listened to with so
much gratilication, may prove interesting and instructive m perusal, would feel
greatly obliged by your compliance with this request.
Your obedient servants,



ff (Jommittee



To David Bitel, Jun., Esq., Troy.

Troy, I)ecemler2S, 1840.
Gentlemen :

Your note of the 2 1th instant, containing a resolution of the Executive Committee
of the Young Men's As.sociation, recpiesting for publication a copy of the Lecture
delivered by me before the Association, on the evening of the 21st inst., was duly
received. Although the Lecture was prepared without any expectation on my
part that its publication would be called for, I shall feel it to be my duty to comply
with the request of the Committee, by furnishing a copy to be at their disposal.
I remain with much esteem.

Your obedient servant,

Messrs. C. II. Read and others, Committee, &c.


Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Association :

It seems to be an instinct of our nature to look
back upon the scenes of our earlier life, and retrace
the steps by which our bodies and minds have ad-
vanced to maturity, from the period of infancy and
childhood. A kindred feeling leads us very natural-
ly to trace from their small beginnings, the places in
which our lot has been cast. Our country furnishes
more instances than any other of towns and cities
springing into existence, and attaining great import-
ance within the generation of their founders. Our
highest antiquity in this great Republic, reaches back
but little more than two centuries. The cities which
can claim even that relative antiquity, are very few.
Among the number, is the neighboring city of Albany.
History informs us, "that (perhaps) in 1614 the first
rude fort was erected (probably) on the southern
point of Manhattan Island," and " that in the next
year (1615) the settlement at Albany began on an
island just below the present city." There is some
reason to believe that the beautiful plateau which
now forms the site of our own city, was explored
in 1609 by the great Navigator, who, first of Europe-
ans, discovered the noble River whose silvery stream


will waft his name to unborn ao^es. We learn from
the authentic records of his voyage, that Hudson
" went sounding his way above the Highlands, till at
last the Crescent, (the ship in which he made his
voyage), had sailed some miles beyond the city of
Hudson, and a boat had advanced a little beyond
Albany." This boat probably ascended to the rapids
which commenced at the northerly bounds of this
city, where ordinary tides spent their force and the
navigation was interrupted. For above a century
after Hudson's memorable voyage, the territory now
embracing the site of the city, probably formed part
of the hunting grounds of the Mohawk Indians.

In the year 1720, a grant of 490 acres, extending
along the Hudson from the Poestenkill to Meadow
Creek, and comprehending the original allotments of
the city, was made in fee by the proprietor of the
Manor of Rensselaerwyck to Derick Van Derheyden
at the annual rent of three bushels and three pecks of
wheat and four fat fowls. This plain and the first
range of hills were possessed by the grantee and his
decendants, and some small portions of it cultivated as
a farm. Mr. Elijah Adams, a venerable citizen now
78 years old, has resided in the immediate vicinity
since he was 17 years old. When he first knew the
Van Derheyden lands, there were strips or patches
within the present site of the city, known as the
corn grounds of the Indians. Some years after Mr.
Adams came here to reside, a full grown bear swam
across the Hudson, landed near the Upper Ferry ;
and being pursued ran among the oaks with which

the plain was covered, and ascended a pine tree near
tlie biiildino- now occupied as the Rensselaer Institute,
from which he wns Lrought down by Mr. Adams'
rifle. It does not appear that this spot had attracted
much attention until three or four years after the
termination of the Revolutionary War, when one or
two individuals from the Eastern States, observing
its favorable situation, persuaded the Dutch proprie-
tors of the soil to lay out a portion of their lands into
town lots. When the hrst surveys were made, the
place was not known by any fixed name. A letter
written by one of the earliest adventurers* in the
fall of 178G, is dated at "Ferry Hook." Several let-
ters written by the same person between the months
of April and September, in the year 1787, are dated
at " Rensselaerwyck," a town which embraced one
third of the whole county. In the fall of 1787, the
name " Van Derheyden," as a designation of the
embryo village, began to be used by the settlers ;
and that name is found in the leases of lots granted
at that period.

Lansinoburoh was then a villaoe of considerable
size and commercial importance. In Carey's edition
of Guthrie's Geography, published in 1795, it was
noticed in the followino- terms : " Lansinoburoh, for-
merly called the " New City," stands on the East side
of the Hudson, nine miles north of Albany. It is a very
flourishing place, pleasantly situated on a plain at the
foot of a hill." At that period, Troy had not been
noticed by our geographers. The circumstances in

* Mr. Bcnjiiniin CovcU.

which Troy was placed at its beginning, seemed not
propitious to its growth. But a few miles below was
the ancient city of Albany, which for several genera-
tions had been the mart of trade for the entire region
around us. Above, within half the distance, was the
" New City," already a thrifty village, settled by men
of enterprise. Hitherto towns most favorably situa-
ted had had a tardy growth.

At the period when the settlement of Troy com-
menced, the population of Albany probably did not
amount to 4000 ; although it had been incorporated
as a city more than a century. But the establish-
ment of our Federal Government in 1789, gave a
new impulse to the country. The spirit of enter-
prise spread rapidly over our land. The "New State,"
as Vermont was then called, was speedily occupied
by immigrants from the older Eastern States. The
enterprising sons of New England, sagacious to dis-
cover, and prompt to occupy positions which promis-
ed commercial advantages, readily saw that a town
established at the head of natural, ordinary naviga-
tion on the banks of the Hudson, would, after some
struggle, outstrip the " New City," which had been
improvidently located above the rapids. Nor did
those sagacious men believe that a town so favorably
situated at the distance of six miles from Albany,
would be wholly overshadowed by that ancient city.
The earliest surveys and allotments were made be-
tween the years 1786 and 1790. The middle allot-
ment, of which Mr. Jacob D. Van Derheyden, (known
in his life time as the Patroon of Troy), was the pro-

prietor, comprehended the territory between Divi-
sion and Grand Division-streets. The southerly
allotment, of which jMatthise Vnn Derheyden was the
pr()[)rietor, extended lloni .1 )ivision-strcct to the Poes-
tenkill. The nortlicrly allotment, of whicli Jncob I.
\an Derheyden was proprietor, was north of" Grand
Division-street. The farm honse of the Patroon was
on ground now occupied by the National Hotel,
corner of Iviver jmd Ferry-streets. That of Matthise
still stands at the corntn- of lliver and Division-
streets — but its Gothic roof and other characteristics
of its Dutch orioinal, have been made to give place
to more modem forms. The adventurers, who had
pcrsuadcnl the (juict occupants of the Van Derhey-
den farm houses to lay out part of their farms into
village lots, erected one or two slight buildings in the
year 1786. The earliest settler was JMr. Ste2>hen
Ashley, who came here shortly after the close of the
Revolutionary War, and kept a tavern for t^v"o
or three years in the farm house of Matthise Van

No dwelling house was erected by immigrants
before the year 1787. In the month of August of
that year, Dr. Sanniol Gak% tlic elder, inmiigrated
from Guilford, Connecticut, with his family, with the
intention of settlino- at Lansinoburoh ; but owino- to
the (bfficulty of obtaining a dwelling house there, he
stopped at the late Jacob D. Van Derheyden's, and
determined to make this tlic^ place of his residence.
He soon set about the erection of a dwellino- house
and store a little south of the Upper Ferry — which


were completed in the following season. He was for
several years the principal physician, and a promi-
nent man in the enterprise of bnilding up the new

An intelligent and respectable citizen, who immi-
grated to this place in the spring of 1789, states that
at that time, five small stores and about a dozep
dwelling houses had been erected. The appellation
of Van Derheyden was in the latter part of the year,
(1789) changed for a more classic name. Its exist-
ence as a village may be properly dated from the
year 1790: since which, a period of fifty years has
recently elapsed. In the brief review which I shall
take of the progress oi Troy, I propose to divide
the whole time of its existence into j)eriods of ten
years each. The first of which will extend from
the year 1790 to 1800. This was a time of deep
interest and intense effort for the settlers.

At the commencement of the decade, they were
very few in number, and possessed but little sub-
stance; but they were men of courage and activity.
Among the first settlers, who subsequently distin-
guished themselves by their enterprise, may be men-
tioned Messrs. Stephen Ashley, Benjamin Co veil,
Samuel Gale, E})hraim Morgan, John Boardman,
Benjamin Smith, Philip Heartt, Anthony Goodspeed,
Mahlon Taylor, Ebenezer Wilson, and Sanuiel Wil-
son. These pioneers and their early associates, were
compelled to embark in a struggle with the then
formidable "New City," which was sustained with
great spirit, but at first with doubtful success. Before


Troy liad a name, that villaoc had nttnined consider-
able size, and had become the usual mart of trade
for a considerable section of the "New State" and
the eastern towns of this county. A respectable and
enterprising population, possessed of considerable
capital, were there collected. The attempt to build
up a rival village at Van Derheyden's Icrry, had a
little of temerity in its appearance ; but the adven-
turers, though few in numbers, had explored their
ground. They were men of shrewd minds. They
saw that water power here abounded — and that the
River navigation to this point was easy. They
judged that with its natural advantages, their enter-
prise could not fail. Shortly after the commence-
ment of their settlement, an event occurred which
was favorable to its success.

In 1791, this county was detached from Albany.
The question, where the public buildings of the new
county should be erected, was agitated with great
warmth. In this early contest, Troy prevailed.
The first court house was erected here in 1793, and
the first jail in the following year. The influential
men among the early settlers were supporters of the
institutions of religion. While yet too few iii num-
l)er, to erect a tem[)l(^ devoted to public -woi'ship,
or to secure the ministrations of a clergyman, tliey
were accustomed to assemble, at first in a store and
subsequently in a school house, on the Sabbath, at
the sound of a conkshell, and listen to sermons read
by the elder Dr. Gale, or the late Col. Pawling. The
last mentioned gentleman, after having served his


country in the Rc\'olutionai"y War vrith such fidehty
as to have secured the approbation of Washington,
immigrated from Esopus with CoL TenEyck, another
Revohitionary patriot. These gentlemen went at
first to the " New City," but soon removed to Troy
and enrolled themselves with the early settlers. In
1791, by the united effort of the inhabitants, yet too
few to gratify their denominational predilections, the
frame of a house for public worship w^as erected.
In the following year, (179:2), the building was en-
closed and was soon occupied for worship, although
in an unfinished state. This building became the
first edifice of the Presbyterian congregation. It
was enlarged about twenty-five years after its erec-
tion- — and a large part of my audience w^ell remem-
ber its appearance and situation^ in the centre of
our now beautiful Park, opposite the Court House.
During the entire period of the first decade, and
about half of the second, this was the only edifice
erected for the purpose of public worship. The
pastoral services of the venerable Dr. Coe, during the
period which I am now reviewing, were equally
divided between Troy and Lansingburgh ; his resi-
dence beino- in the latter villaoe.

The trade of Troy, during the period under
review, was greatly sustained by the purchase, storing
and shipment of grain. Wheat "\vas then a staple
article of produce of the country on both sides of
the Hudson, the valley of the Mohawk, the shores of
Lake Champlain, and of the whole region wliich
tbuiid its market on the Hudson. Tlie first settlers


constructed their store-houses for the reception ol"
grain, fronting on River-street extending towards the
river, wlili spacious lotts, so that the hags of wheat
brought in wagons and sleighs couhl be hoisted by
tackles and placed upon the scales, and when weigh-
ed deposited in the bins. From the store-houses it
Avas conveyed by spouts on board the vessels. By
this means cartage was saved.

The numerous water privileges in the vicinity
soon began to be occupied. The enterprising Mahlon
Taylor erected at an early period, a flouring mill of
spacious dimensions, for that day, on the Poestenkill.
Within a short time afterwards, another was erected
by the late JMoses Vail, near Ida falls — and a third
by JMr. Witbeck, near the mouth of the Wynants-
kill. Thus the foundation was laid for carrying on
a branch of business, which has ever since formed
an important item in the commerce of Troy.

As Troy united advantages for the reception,
transportation and manufacture of grain, greater
than w^ere possessed by Albany or Lansingburoh, it
early took the lead in those branches. Troy, from
its commencement, engaged also in the lumber trade,
in which it has ever since largely participated.
During the period under consideration, pot and
pearl ashes were brought here in large quantities,
from Vermont and the northern counties of this
state. Butter and cheese have always constituted
a considerable item of the business of Troy. The
first newspaper was printed by Luther Pratt, in
1796 ; it Wcis called the Farmer's Oracle. It was


not continued long. After some interval, the North-
ern Budget was established by Robert Moffit, in the
year 1798, and has continued ever since, with a
slight variation in the name. I anticipate what in
strict chronolooical order belongs to the second
decade, in noticing two more of the earlier newspaper
establishments : The Troy Gazette, which was estab-
lished by Thomas Collier in 1802, and the Farmers
Register, by Francis xA-dancourt, in 1807. During
this first decade, a respectable number of frame
stores of pretty large dimensions, but constructed
without much regard to taste, were erected at inter-
vals along the westerly side of River-street, princi-
pally between Ferry and Albany-streets. The dwel-
lings were mostly of small size, and slightly built.
The first brick dwelling house was erected by James
Spencer, in the year 1795, on the triangular space
included between River, Second and Albany-streets,
and which, in the original plan of the city, was laid
out into building lots. The block of ill-shaped
buildings erected upon it, was removed above twenty
years ago, under the authority of a special act of the
Legislature, and the area converted into a public
place, since called, with some departure from mathe-
matical precision, Washington Square. In the year
1796, four brick dwelling houses were erected, which
are still standing, viz.. No. 31 First-street, Nos. 20
and 22 Second-street, and the building on the corner
of River and Washington-streets. Several brick
dwelling houses were erected in the three following-
years, but it is believed that no brick store was built


during the last century. The commerce of" Troy
during the period under review, partook more of the
barter kind than it has since done. The capital
embarked in trade was small ; no Bank had been
established, and much of the produce brought to
market was received in store to be shipped to New
York, and sold for the account of the owners. But
the character of the first race of business men, sup-
plied to some extent the want of capital. Their
unbending integrity and untiring industry, early
gained for the business men of Troy, a reputation
which established their credit on an enduring basis.
Their habits of business and economy, inspired con-
fidence in the city and country. Their hours of
relaxation were few, and their devotion to business
intense. The places of business were open at sunrise
and never closed before nine o'clock p. m., and in the
seasons of active business, the sound of the tackles
might be heard to a much later hour. Nothing which
could divert attention from business — not even a
book, was permitted to be in use about the stores of
some of the most vigilant of our early merchants.

The first settlers were unostentatious in their man-
ners and dress ; simple, frugal and regular in their
mode of living. They were alive to the commercial
interests of the village, and earnest in advancing its
pros})erity. The navigation of the River was im-
proved ; new roads were constructed, and encour-
agement was extended to men of enterprise to settle
here. A generous emulation without jealousy, pre-
vailed among the business men. They supported


each other's credit, find readily united in measures
calculated to promote the interest of the village.
The immiorations I'rom the Eastern States durino-
this decade, furnished the chief source of its increase.
It is difficult now to obtain any accurate statement of
the progressive increase of the poj^ulation during this
period. A respectable lady remembers, that during
the prevalence of the small pox in the year 1794,
Dr. Gale and Dr. John Loudon ascertained that the
number of inhabitants in the village, was between
four and five hundred. At the close of the century^
it probably amounted to 1100 or 1200. At that time
Albany contained about 6000, and Lansingburgh
about 2000. But Troy, although its population was-
small, had established a reputation which insured its
future growth. The groves of oaks and pines, which
covered a large part of its site at the beginning c)f
the decade, had been mostly cleared away, and the
orchards which had occupied a considerable space
in the vicinity of the Van Derheyden farm houses,
were reduced to a small number of trees. The
stores were all on River-street, and the dwellings
mostly on that and First-street, a few on Second-
street, and still fewer thinly scattei'ed along Third,
Hill and Division-streets.

II. During the early part of the second decade,
extending from 1800 to 1810, a new impulse was
given to the village, by the removal to it from Lan-
singburgh, of a number of the most active and sub-
stantial business men. This accession of population,
capital and enterprise, had an inspiriting influence


upon Troy, while the immigration from the Eastward,
and more especially from Connecticut, continued to
increase. The march of improvement was greatly
accelerated. A considerable number of brick build-
ings, both stores and dwellings, were erected. The
flouring establishments were increased, and a large
number of vessels were employed.

In 1801, the Farmers Bank was organized, and
became a very important auxiliary to the commerce
of the village — although its first location, midway
between Lansinoburoh and Ti'ov, was not a little
inconvenient. Such a location could have no other
oj'igin but the feelings of rivalry and jealousy, which
existed between the two villages at that period. The
increase of the population during the first five years
of the second decade, was such as to render neces-
sary the erection of more edifices for religious wor-
ship. An Episcopal Church> of small dimensions of
brick, was erected in 1804; some years subsequently
it was enlarged, and is now known as St. John's
Church. It is gratifying to add, that during the last
season it has been surmounted by a spire of remark-
ably fine proportions, which may justly be ranked
among the best specimens of architecture in the city.
In the year 1805, the Baptist Church in Third-street
was erected, and was subsequently enlarged. The
first Methodist house of worship in State-street, was
erected in 1809, and the Friends meetino- house in
Fourth-street, in the year 1810. In 180G the popula-
tion of the village had swelled to nearly 3000.

For a period of about seventeen years, the infant


\dllage had enjoyed uninterrupted prosperity. It
was now in common with most commercial places
in our country, to experience a severe reverse.
Hitherto this young nation had, with but few inter-
ruptions, carried on a most profitable foreign com-
merce during the sanguinary wars, in which Europe
had been engaged. At length the belligerent powers
determined that neutral nations should no longer
carry on the most legitimate neutral trade with their
respective enemies. Our government, in order to
preserve the property and protect the rights of the
citizens, were compelled to adopt defensive and
coercive, although peaceable measures. A general
embargo on our shipping was laid in December, 1807,
which was continued about eighteen months. During
that period, the trade of Troy was nearly annihilated.
Its streets, which in the seasons of business had been
previously thronged with wagons and sleighs loaded
with produce, now exhibited, almost constantly, the
solemn stillness of the Sabbath. The vessels lay
dismantled at the wharves, and a general palsy
seemed to have seized on the business community.
Trade forsook its natural and wonted channels, and
much of the business which had usually been trans-
acted at Troy, was transferred to Montreal and
Quebec. In the spring of 1809, the embargo gave
place to the non-intercourse, or more properly, the
non-importation policy. This afforded considerable
relief to our commercial towns. Although the British
provinces still participated in the trade which natu-
rally belonged to Troy, this modification of the


restrictive policy, greatly meliorated its condition.
Troy slowly recovered from its torpor, and at the
close of the period under review, had attained a
population of nearly 4000. But the increase was
chiefly during the first six years of the decade.
During the continuance of the embargo, there was
probably no increase. Just before the commence-
ment of the restrictive system, the advance in the
price of real estate had been such, as in a small
degree to create an appetite for speculation in village
lots. Previously, no such tendency had existed, and
lots had generally been taken up or purchased only
by persons who intended to improve them. But the
embargo extinguished the fever of lot speculation,
and for many subsequent years there was no recur-
rence of the paroxism.

III. At the commencement of the third decade,
(extending from 1810 to 1820), the commercial

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