Amasa J. (Amasa Junius) Parker.

Landmarks of Albany County, New York online

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parcel thereof Belonging or in any way appertaining to or with the same, now or at
any time heretofore belonging or own'd occupied, enjoyed as part, parcel! or mem-
ber thereof, and All deeds. Evidences and writings Touching and Concerning the
premises only.

This deed was signed by Peter Schuyler, mayor. Some of these
public lands were sold at auction as seen in the following:

Resolved, By this Board, That the Clerk put up Advertisements that a piece of
land lying on Gallows hill containing between 10 and 11 acres, as per Draft to be
seen at the time of Sale, to be sold at Public Vendue on Saturday, the 30th day of
this current month, by the Mayor, Aldermen and Commonalty at two o'clock in the
afternoon at the City Hall in the City of Albany.



On the 19th of February, 1761, the council by resolution directed
John R. Bleecker to make a survey of the land described in a petition
of the minister and officers of the Dutch church, leaving room for
highways, for which land the board was to give a deed to the church
in consideration of ^50, and a reserve of ^^20 per annum forever. The
tract thus conveyed contained 153 acres and is described in Bleecker's
survey. In 1762 an important land transaction was consummated in
the transfer of what has been known as the Wendell Patent, a tract in
the heart of the city; the northwest line of this lot extended 1,207 feet
in a straight line; the southwesterly corner was situated in the center
of the block west of Eagle street, between Hamilton and Hudson
streets; and the northeasterly corner, which was the end of the above
mentioned straight line, terminated "on the west side of Lodge street
about 152 feet north of Howard street. The other boundaries of the
tract were irregular, the southeast corner terminating in the corner of
William street, about fifty feet south of Beaver street. In following
the southeast line a bend and corner is situated in the center of the
block between Philip, Grand, Hudson and Plain streets, the other re-
maining corner terminating about ninety-five feet east of Eagle on the
north side of Hamilton street. The original map of this tract is still
in possession of descendants of the patentee, and the outline of the
tract appears on some of the early maps.

The old records show that there was a corporation officer in those
days called the town whipper, who had considerable employment in his
peculiar official capacity. There are frequent instances where he was
complimented for his good work in his particular line. In one case in
1762, when one Rick Van Toper held the office, he was voted five shil-
lings and sixpence, in addition to his regular fees, " for the due and
wholesome manner in which he laid the lash upon the back of Tiberius
Haines," who had been convicted of beating his wife. On the 30th of
January, 1789, the corporation agreed with Benjamin Gable to act as
town-whipper at a yearly salary of ^20.

At the beginning of Mayor Cuyler's administration in 1780 a ques-
tion arose as to the right of the mayor and aldermen, who were by the
charter made ex- officio members of the Supreme Court and the Court
of Oyer and Terminer, to sit on the bench with the judges of those
courts. When these courts sat on June 5, 1771, they were waited upon
by a committee (appointed by the council), consisting of the mayor
and Aldermen Yates and Ten Broeck, and informed that the mayor.


recorder and six aldermen intended to sit with tliem on that day.
After their withdrawal from the court the city officials received a com-
munication from the judges denying their right to sit in such judicial
capacity and concluding as follows :

We cannot conceive that your city charter can be so construed as to render this
honorable Court a Mob, instead of a Bench of Judges with full consideration of their
dignity and responsibility. We have therefore directed the Officers of the Court to
prevent your taking your seats upon the Bench, in case you insist upon so doing.

As a result of this singular contest, the council adopted resolutions
in October, expressing their determination to send a commission to
New York and submit the matter to the colonial authorities. Alder-
man Abraham Yates was selected for this mission, which was probably
unsuccessful, as the records contain no allusion to the sitting of those
officials in those courts; they were, however, members of the Court of
Sessions of the City and County of Albany, as elsewhere explained.

In April, 1774, various changes were made in the city ordinances,
among them being provisions for regulating the ferry between Albany
and Greenbush; for grading and paving some of the streets; for regu-
lating the line of vessels at the docks and wharves; regulating cartmen
and their carts and the public market; against profaning the Lord's
day; protecting the city from danger of gunpowder; preventing fires
and accidents from fast driving, and many other minor matters.

It will already have been inferred by the reader that by far the most
important business of the Common Council for many years was in rela-
tion to the real property owned by the city corporation or coming into
its possession under the provisions of the first charter. The provision
enabling the corporation to purchase 1,000 acres of low land at "Tion-
deroge" will be remembered. Under this, several Indians in June,
1721, conveyed a tract of eleven morgen of land to Mr. Cuyler in fee,
whose heirs obtained from' the corporation, April 24, 1769, for ^30 a
conveyance releasing the land. Again, on July 7, 1730, certain Indians
conveyed about the same quantity land to Peter Brower for 999 years;
he on November 29, 1734, conveyed the same to the corporation, and
on April 27, 1749, the corporation leased the land to Peter Brower for
999 years at the annual rent of one skipple of wheat for each morgen.
Other parts of these lands were obtained from the corporation at the
same annual rent, but leaving the larger part of the 1,000 acres the
property of the city. In 1779 the Indians had all removed from these
lands, and they had become occupied principally by refugees and


squatters. What to do under these conditions and how to recover the
rights of the city, was an important problem of that time. The whole
question was finally referred to Peter W. Yates, one of the ablest law-
yers of that era. His subsequent report was to the effect that the city and
its successors had an undoubted estate in fee simple in the lands in
question ; that although the Indian deeds could not be considered a
part of the title, yet the city's title was paramount to that of any other

Other land difficulties soon arose in connection with the large and
valuable tracts owned by the city at Schaghticoke (now in Rensselaer
county). These lands were occupied by tenants who began to neglect
to pay their rents. In order to learn the particulars of the situation
the mayor and aldermen held a meeting at the house of Johannes
Knickerbacker, at Schaghticoke, September 20, 1780, where they sum-
moned the delinquents before them. Various excuses for the non pay-
ment of rent were made, many claiming that none was due. There
was no course left the city authorities but to proceed to extremities,
and Peter W. Yates and John Lansing, jr., were retained and instructed
to bring actions against all the tenants from whom rent was due, which
was done. At a meeting held at the city hall January 30, 1784, at
which were present the mayor, aldermen and assistant aldermen, the
following resolution was adopted :

Resolved, That Peter W. Yates, Esq., be directed to immediately write letters, as
Attorney for the Corporation, to the tenants of this Board at Schaghticoke, and who
were lately prosecuted for non-payment of rent, acquainting them that unless they
pay this winter the wheat stipulated in the agreement for the stay of suits, they
must depend upon being prosecuted.

The resolution explains itself. When the actions were first brought
in 1780, the suits were stayed upon agreement by the tenants to pay a
certain quantity of wheat in regular settlement. Many did so, while
others delayed, and some never paid. It was customary in those times
for the city to receive its rents in wheat and large storehouses were
frequently filled with grain and kept in charge of the chamberlain, who
sold it under direction of the council. In times of scarcity this policy
was of great benefit to the poor, and the sales to those who might be
disposed to speculate were restricted in quantity to each buyer. In
January, 1777, an order is recorded directing the chamberlain " to sell
100 skepels of the wheat belonging to the Corporation, at four shillings
sixpence per skepel, to those persons who had demands on the Board.
No person to have more than three skepels at a time."

In February, 1780, the question came before the Common Council
of surrendering some of the privileges granted by the charter of 1686,
and applying to the State Legislature for others. The matter met
with much opposition and was long discussed, and final action post-
poned until 1787, when on March 21, the act entitled "An Act for alter-
ing the Charter Rights of the City of Albany," passed the Legislature.
The principal changes took from the mayor the right to grant licenses
to tavern keepers, victualers, and all retail dealers in liquors; also the
right of the mayor and the aldermen to have the sole regulation of
trade with the Indians; annulled the provision that a court of Com-
mon Pleas should be held once in every fortnight before the mayor;
and altered the time of election of aldermen, their assistants and the
chamberlain to the last Tuesday in each year.

The city of Albany was now one hundred years old, and at the close
of the war of the Revolution its growth was stimulated and its busi-
ness interests rapidly increased. The enterprising Yankees saw their
opportunity and came in large numbers to supplant the slow methods
of the Dutch with their activity and ingenuity. Up to this time, it
has been written, the city "old as it was, still retained its primitive
aspect, and still stood in all its original simplicity, unchanged, un-
modified, imimproved, still pertinaciously adhering in all its walks to
the old track and the old form. The rude hand of innovation was
then just beginning to be felt; and slight as was the touch, it was
regarded as an injury, or resented as an insult." The Dutch resisted
Yankee encroachment on their trade, but the new element was daily
becoming strong, and before long they were overmatched.

Albany celebrated its one hundredth anniversary on July 23, 178(1.
A meeting of the Common Council was held July 15, in the City Hall,
when the following resolution was adopted :

Resolved, That the 23d instant, being the jubilee of the charter of this city, lie
commemorated by a public feast at the City Hall; that a committee of five be ap-
pointed to procure the materials necessary, and to regulate the same.

The committee appointed were Aldermen Philip Van Rensselaer,
Peter W. Yates, and Assistants John W. Wendell, Richard Lash and
Jelles Winne. On the 18th of July this committee reported as follows:

The Committee to whom was referred the mode of celebrating the 32d of July
instant, being the century anniversary of this city, do report that, in their opinion,
the Common Council do convene iu the forenoon of that dav, at ten o'clock, at the


City Hall, and from thence proceed in procession to the hill westward of the city,
attended by such citizens as shall choose; that, during the procession, all the bells of
the several churches in this city shall ring; and at the arrival at the place assigned
for the purpose, on the hill, thirteen toasts, and one for the charter, under the dis-
charge of fourteen cannon ; and that a barrel of good spirits be purchased for the

This report was accepted and another committee was appointed to
have entire charge of the celebration. When the day arrived an im-
posing procession for that time was formed, which marched up State
street to the grounds formerly occupied by the OJd Capitol, where the
ceremonies took place. Later in the day the mayor, alderman and
commonalty of the city partook of a supper served at Lewis's tavern,
where it may be presumed some of that "barrel of good spirits" lent
its inspiring influence to the flow of reason. The expenses of this
celebration were ordered paid by the chamberlain.

The year 1797 saw Albany made definitely and permanently the
.State capital. Previous to this time the Legislature had met here on
several occasions, the first being one of the three sessions of the third
Legislature in 1780, the next being a session of the Fourth Legislature,
which also held three sessions, in 1781. Aside from these, however, the
Legislatures up to 1788-89 were held in Poughkeepsie and New York.
The twelfth session was held in Albany; from 1789 to 1793 the meet-
ings were in New York ; the seventeenth session was held in Albany
in 1794, the eighteenth at Poughkeepsie and in New York, the nine-
teenth in New York, 1796, and the twentieth, 1796-7, in New York
and Albany. At this session the question of permanently locating the
State capital was finally settled in favor of Albany. While political
influence and the power of wealth had something to do with this choice,
the chief factors determining the selection were the situation of the
city with reference to the remainder of the State and the natural ad-
vantages of the place. Albany became the capital in the same year
that the United States Constitution was transmitted to Congress for
ratification or rejection. The constitution received bitter opposition
from the Anti Federalists of New York State, with George Clinton at
their head, and of cour-se Albany was the center of the local strife;
but the old governor and his political adherents were destined to defeat.
From the adoption of that constitution down to the presetit time Al-
bany has been the center of great political influence and power. From
this ancient city into every part of the State have ramified the various


])arts of the vast and intricate system of political machinery which has
controlled public affairs.

The beginninjj of the century found Albany city with a population of
5,38'.), which increased to 9,35(1 in 1810, these figures being according
to the United States census. The State census in 1814 gave Albany
10,083 inhabitants. This shows the remarkable growth during the first
twenty years succeeding the Revolution. " About 1781," wrote a local
editor, " not more than seventy, at the utmost calculation, shops and
stores were kept in this city, nor had we manufactories of any kind, but
depended on importation for every manufactured article. Now [seven
or eight years, later] we behold Market and State streets crowded with
stores, and rents in those streets enhanced to such a degree as to put
houses out of the reach of inconsiderable traders." In alluding to the
business of one day (February 8, 1794), the Gazette said:

On a moderate estimate, it is presumed the purchases and sales of produce and
merchandise exceeded §50,000. Of the article of wheat, between 25 and 30,000
bushels were brought to this market; a quantity far exceeding the receipts of any
one day since the settlement of this country. The price of wheat rose during the
the day from 7s. 6d. to 8s., or the highest price between this and the first of March.
The last mode of purchase is truly novel and must be convincing to the farmer that
the merchants of this city are too independent to form combinations.

Count Liancourt visited Albany in 1795, and has left the following-
regarding business interests at that time :

The trade of Albany is chiefly carried on with the produce of the Mohawk
country, and extends eastward as far as agriculture and cultivated lands expand.
The State of Vermont and a part of New Hampshire furnish many articles of trade,
and the exports chiefly consist in timber and lumber of every sort and description,
jjotatoes, potash and pearl ashes, all species of grain, lastly, in manufactured
articles. These articles are most of them transported to Albany in winter on
sledges, housed by the merchants, and by them successively transmitted to New
York, where they are either sold for bills on England or exchanged for English
goods, which are in return sent from Albany to the provinces, whence the articles
for transportation were drawn. . . • The trade of Albany is carried on in ninety
vessels, forty-five of which belong to the inhabitants of the town, and the rest to
New York or other places.

This French nobleman was surprised that no vessels had yet sailed
direct from Albany to England, causing a loss to the local merchants
and a gain to the shippers in New York. At the beginning of the cen-
tury the great tide of migration westward, a large part of which passed
through Albany, had begun its flow, and within a few years reached
enormous proportions. In one day in 1795 a citizen counted five hun-


dred sleighs laden with emigrants. All of this travel through the city
left a constantly increasing profit to tradesmen, and stores multiplied
rapidly. In 1796 there were one hundred and thirty-one stores, almost
double the number of sixteen years earlier, and sixty-eight storehouses.
During the war of 1812, as the i-eader has already been informed, the
city was one of the principal places for accumulating and transporting
government supplies, for the armies in the West and North. It then
cost from $20 to $30 a ton to transport goods from Albany to Buffalo,
and it was estimated that 9,000 tons were shipped from this port. This
account of trade conditions early in the century may be closed with the
following from the Spafford Gazetteer of 1813:

Situated on one of the finest rivers m the world, at a distance of 300 miles from
the ocean, whose tide it enjoys; with an uninterrupted sloop navigation; and in the
the center of an extensive and fertile country, of which it becomes the natural mart,
Albany carries on an immense trade already, and seems destined to become one of
the greatest iiilandtowus in America. . . . Of the shipping belonging to Albany
1 am not precisely informed, but, agreeable to information derived from the dock-
master, there are fifty Albany sloops that pay wharfage by the year; sixty belonging
to Troy, Lansingburgh and Waterford ; twenty-six from Tarrytown and New York ;
seventy from New Jersey and the eastern States, including twenty schooners, in all
two hundred and six ; and about one hundred and fifty from different places have
paid wharfage by the day, bemg engaged in different kmds of trade, during the
season of 1812, making a total of 350. The quantity of wheat purchased annually
in Albany is immensely great ; and good judges have estimated it at nearly a million
bushels. Other grain, and every article of the agricultural and other common pro-
ducts, nearly in the same proportion, swell the aggregate exports from this city to an
enormous amount.

This growing business interests in Albany gave rise to the need
of banking facilities. Prior to 1793 the project of establishing a bank
in the northern part of the State was much discussed, some favoring it
and many violently opposing it. On the 3d of February of that year a
meeting was called at Lewis's tavern in Albany, at which many leading
capitalists attended for discussion. There was at that time only one
bank in the State, the Bank of New York, the stock of which was fifty
per cent, above par. It was announced in the newspapers that $100,000
in subscriptions cmild he taken for stock in a new bank. At a later
meeting the priijcct assmned definite form and it was determined
to found a financial in.stitution here with the name of the Albany Bank
and a capital of $75,000, to be divided into five hundred shares of
$150 each, $15 to be paid on each share at the time of subscribing and
the remainder in three installments. Thirteen directors were to be


chosen, nine of whom should be residents of Alban}-. Jeremiah Van
Rensselaer, Jacob Van Derheyden and Barent Bleecker were appointed
to open the subscription books and close them as soon as five hundred
shares were taken. The books were opened February 17 and in less
than three hours the amount of stock was over-subscribed. As soon as
the books were closed the stock advanced ten per cent, and on
the Saturday following it rose to 100 per cent, advance. A char-
ter was applied for and obtained towards the close of the session of the
Legislature. Further description of this and other banks is given in,
later pages. A second bank was established in 1803 and the third in

While deeply engrossed in promoting the various business interests
and public affairs of the city, the people very properly sought some
means of amusement and recreation. A theatrical company under
management of Hallam Brothers played a season in New York in 1769,
and obtained permission to appear in Albany three times a week for
one month, opening July 3, in "Venice Preserved." Mrs. Grant has
recorded that the officers of an English regiment stationed here, played
the "Beau's Stratagem" in a barn in 17G0; but the Hallam company
were the first to open a regular season. In 1785 a company came up
from New York and in the Gazette of December 5, announced performan-
ces of "Cross Purposes," and "Catharine and Petruchio." Permission had
been obtained from the authorities, but before the performances, a
storm of opposition arose against the theatre, and a petition signed by
seventy persons was presented to the officials asking withdrawal of
their consent to the company. But the mayor, recorder and council,
by a vote of nine to four decided that as consent had been given, and
expense incurred by the company in fitting up rooms, it would not be
just to turn them away. The performances were given twice a week
until the latter part of February. In 1803 a company managed by
William Dunlap and Lewis Hallam played in Albany three nights a
week from August 23 to October 37, in a dancing room on North Pearl
street, in the company being the grandparents of Joseph Jefferson, the
comedian. In the spring of 1811 John Howard Payne, then twenty
years old, who is better known as the author of " Home, Sweet Home,"
than as an actor, played an engagement there. In November of that
year an actor named John Bernard came from Boston with the avowed
intention of establishing a permanent theatre in a building to be erected
for the purpose. At that time there was much opposition among some


classes to the theatre as an institution; the theatre in Richmond,
Va., had recently burned with the loss of seventy-one lives, and the
Boston manager was not warmly welcomed in Albany. The feeling
against his project was intense, and a motion was made in the council
to abolish all theatrical performances as a nuisance. The matter was
referred to the committee on law, who made a long report dated Janu-
ary 13, 1813. In the report the opinion was expressed that "a well-
regulated theatre, supported by the respectable portion of society, so
far from being contrary to good order and morality, must essentially
contribute to correct the language, refine the taste, ameliorate the
heart, and enlighten the understanding. " The report closed with an
opinion that the council could not interfere with the projected building.
During its erection, which was begun at once, Bernard's company
played in the Thespian Hotel, which was the name of a hall near Clin-
ton avenue. The theatre was situated on the west side of Green street,
south of Hamilton, and was formally opened to the public January 18,
1813, with the plays, "West Indian," and "Fortune's Frolic," the ad-
mission being about the same as commonly demanded now — $1, 75 and
50 cents, and the opening address being written by Solomon Southwick.
Mr. Bernard managed the theatre for four years, and though he had a
good company met with but indifferent financial success, and in 1818 sold
it to the Baptist Society who used it for many years for a church. In
1824-0 a theatre was built on the site of the Leland Opera House, a
portion of which is incorporated in the present building, being opened
May 13, 1825, and here many of the great actors of their times have
played. There was also an Albany Museum, established in a small
way as early as 1797, which was continued from 1826 by Harry Meech,
and was removed in 1831 from the corner of Hudson avenue and Broad-
way to the corner of State and Broadwaj-, where in later years theatri-

Online LibraryAmasa J. (Amasa Junius) ParkerLandmarks of Albany County, New York → online text (page 30 of 138)