New York Genealogical and Biographical Society.

The New York genealogical and biographical record (Volume 63) online

. (page 17 of 30)
Online LibraryNew York Genealogical and Biographical SocietyThe New York genealogical and biographical record (Volume 63) → online text (page 17 of 30)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Let me say something about our friend in his relations to the society
of New York. His figure and aspect are well remembered : we recall
him as when we saw him, but a little while ago ; that stately and powerful
form is before us now ; the air of reserve and dignity, the bearing, which
marks the man, to whom, by nature, place and honour belong. And yet,
withal, nothing was more marked in him than modesty, dislike of pub-
licity, and uniform courtesy towards all with whom he had to do.
Arrogance was foreign to his nature ; consideration for every one, respect
for every man, whatever his place in the social circle, were characteristic
of our friend. He was not one of those who, imbued with a consciousness
of superiority, and, conceiving themselves to be of great importance in
society, seem bent on meeting public expectation ; most trying and pain-
ful persons they, whom we would fain relieve, did we know how, of some
of the high value which they set on themselves. Strong in will and thor-
oughly grounded in principles and convictions, he was unassuming, reti-
cent, and reserved.

To one who knew him most intimately, and loved and honoured him
with filial affection, I am indebted for this agreeable portrait: "His
tastes were simple, and with riper years the serious pleasures of his youth
continued to delight him. In the prime of life he possessed great vigour,
and his favorite relaxations were a walk through the woods, or an after-
noon in his rowboat, or a long ride on horseback. This zest for outdoor
exercise developed a vivid appreciation of the beauties of rural scenery.
He delighted in the blossoming expansion of Spring, and in the reveries
that Summer fields and fleeting clouds and lengthening shadows suggest.
The tints of Autumn, and the sparkling vista of the river, and the elo-
quent silence of starlight nights spoke to him in a language he grew to
understand and love."

Mr. Astor was singularly happy in his choice of a companion in his
fortunes and a sharer in his social cares and duties. It is impossible to
think of him, and of that house in which for so many years, the duties of
hospitality were fulfilled in so becoming and gracious a manner and on
so liberal a scale, without recalling that admirable woman who cast upon
the scene the splendour of her presence and adorned everv circle in which
she moved. She was a power for good, to her husband, to those who had
the advantage of her acquaintance, and to the society of New York. With
a grace and a dignity appropriate to her lineage, with tact and wisdom, with
a perfect knowledge of the usage of the world, she ordered her house and
held her state at the front of the ladies of this metropolis. "New York

124 ^^^' J- J- ^^^^^ ^^^ ^^'^ 4-^7ierican Ancestry. [Ji-ily,

Society, " as it is called, is a reality. It has a positive existence of its own ;
the metes and bounds may be somewhat uncertain, yet it is a living entity,
to be taken into account by those who study the age and time, and are in-
terested in social philosophy and morals. In this society, as in every other,
there is good, and there is evil ; there is no reason why it should not
make for honour and righteousness, for social purity, and for the refine-
ment and elevation of the life of the city. To that end, however, it must
have leaders, and those leaders must recognize their mission. Here exist
no crown, no hereditary aristocracy, no race of nobles, to set the fashion
in manners and morals ; that work devolves on those individuals, to whom,
by common consent, and on reasonable grounds, the headship is conceded.
Mrs. Astor was of that number : during her life-time she held her office
with dignity, and exercised it with an appreciation of her responsibilities,
and with an attention to social duties so scrupulous that it ended in
exhausting her strength and shortening her life. She knew that the
woman who stands in the front rank of the society of this metropolis, ought
to represent that society for all that it can be worth to us, for truth, and
virtue, and honest living. She knew that such a person must have a
high ideal of womanhood ; that she must exert a constraining power over
her peers, and set a good example to her juniors ; that she must
frown upon the vicious, and help those who are good and true of heart ;
that her doors must be closed against women of dubious reputation, and
men whom profligacy makes conspicuous. She knew that the besetting
sins of fashionable society are self-love and self-admiration, pleasure-
seeking for the mere delight of it, frivolity, extravagance in dress, enter-
tainment, and foolish indulgence ; low rivalries, addiction to pursuits
which minister to nothing save luxury and pride, and secret, or open sym-
pathy with those influences of the period which tend to defile the thoughts
and corrupt the heart. And to her credit be it said, as it might be of some
other noble women of her class, that society was the purer and the better
for her lofty ideals and her fair example, and that she was a power and an
influence for good so long as she lived and reigned in her own hospitable
mansion and in her conceded place. Beautiful in person, accomplished
and cultivated, in every sphere of a lady's duty, attractive by manner and
conversational powers, she was a tower of strength to a husband, who
repaid her by the devotion of his heart and life.

To her the mind reverts in reading Mr. Ruskin's description of the
woman's true place and power : — "So far as she rules, all must be right,
or nothing is. She must be enduringly, incorruptibly good ; instinctively,
infallibly wise ; — wise, not for self-development but for self-renunciation ;
wise, not that she may set herself above her husband, but that she may
never fail from his side ; wise, not with the narrowness of insolent and
loveless pride, but with the passionate gentleness of an infinitely variable,
because infinitely applicable, modesty of service. " *

Of her deeply religious character, and of her abundant charities,
among the poor, the degraded, and the wretched waifs of child-life in this
city, it is unnecessary for me to speak ; you all know the story. But one
thing comes back to me whenever I think of her ; the work done by her
in person in a quarter from which it is a womanly instinct to draw back,
and which very lew are qualified to perform. In a bad, low quarter of
the town, stands a house known as the " Midnight Mission." Its doors
* " Sesame and Lilies, Queen's Gardens," N. Y. Ed. 1SS2, p. ico.

1 89 1.] -^^f- /• [• Aslor and his American Anceshy. 125

are open nightly to those wretched beings, who, stricken with remorse, or
oppressed with horror at their sin, take refuge there, asking shelter, and
protection, a place for repentance, and a start in a new life. The evening
usually finds a party of such social outcasts gathered together, for reading,
work, music, and such diversi6n as may lure them from their sorrows,
and help to elevate and refine the bruised and crushed character. Ladies
go there, to read to them, to entertain them, to talk with them quietly, about
the beauty of virtue and the peace of a pure life. Probably not one in that
forlorn company ever knew who was that " Sister Augusta" — for by that
name she went, — who statedly came to them and spent the evening
among them ; delighting them by her great conversational powers, and
particularly by her musical skill, for she was an unusually brilliant per-
former on the piano-forte ; but we know ; and I think it makes us hope-
ful and humble, to identify that modest figure in the plain dress, with
the lady who might be seen at another time, right graciously receiving in
her splendid apartments the first people of this city and of other lands.
The house, in which she and her husband dwelt so many years, once the
centre of an appropriate and ample hospitality, has now disappeared ;
the march of progress has overwhelmed, the tide of change has swept over
and submerged it ; and they whom we knew are gone hence to be with
God. Perhaps it is best that the walls have thus come down, and that
the roof-tree should have vanished. Such is the order of this fleeting
state : "As soon as the wind goeth over it is gone and the place thereof
shall know it no more. He hath put down the mighty from their seats.
. . The rich He hath sent empty away."

On the 1 2th day of December, 1887, the accomplished and lovely
lady of whom we have been thinking, after a protracted and suffering ill-
ness of a year's duration, passed from this mortal scene. Her death was
a severe blow to her husband ; a blow from which he never recovered. His
was that sorrow which slowly deepens down into the bases of the lives of
men. On the 1st of December of the following year, he said to me:
"You remember that my time of darkness is coming ; " an allusion to
the approaching anniversary of her death. He spent that day by him-
self, in seclusion ; towards evening I went to him, and we said together,
in her memory, one of those solemn offices of the dead, which bring them
so distinctly back to us and draw us so near to them. At this point, I
may perhaps, most appropriately speak of him as a churchman. He was
very well read in theology, and familiar with ecclesiastical matters. He
loved the Church with a sincere and loyal devotion ; he was a regular at-
tendant at her services, and a devout communicant ; he took great inter-
est in the music at the parish church, and promoted, by influence and
example, advance in the solemnity and beauty of ritual ; indeed, in some
particulars, he would have been glad to see things carried beyond the
point which seemed to me desirable. To him, in conjunction with his
brother, Mr. William Astor, we are indebted for that magnificent altar
and reredos erected in the parish church to the glory of Almighty God
and in loving remembrance of William B. Astor ; other gifts to the choir
and chancel were made by him from time to time. Our poor depended
on him for a large proportion of the sum annually received by them in
charity ; and it was mainly by his kind assistance that the Mission House
was built, which forms the centre of our charitable work in the lower
wards of this city. It is pleasant to remember, that it was his practice, if

126 ^^^' /• J- ^^^or and his A?nerican Ancestry. [Ju'X.

he chanced to be abroad at a season when the clergy were in need of
special help for their poor people, to send us home his usual contribu-
tions lest they should be missed by their needy recipients. It was an
instance of those minor morals, which, in the observance, indicate a just
apprehension of duty and a readiness to fulfill it, and for which the clergy,
almoners of Christ's Poor, are always grateful. The private charities of
Mr. and INIrs. iVstor were very large. 1 am told, by a very intimate and
dear friend of theirs, once their almoner to the needy and distressed, that
he knows, of his personal knowledge,, that their joint gifts, in a quiet and
unobtrusive way, did not fall below the sum of $100,000 per annum for
many years. Of these, none knew, but the grateful recipients of that

I have said what I had to say to you, concerning our departed friend ;
not without the impression that he would have forbidden, had it been
possible, this public commemoration of his acts and character. I am sure
that this would have been his wish, could he have expressed it. Never
had a man a greater horror of publicity. I remember his telling me that
he always tried to avoid writing notes or letters, and made them as short
as possible, through the dread of the collection and publication of corre-
spondence after death ; and when he wrote to me, it was always with the
understanding that the manuscript should be destroyed. A striking in-
stance of this habit of mind lately came to my notice. There is a very
valuable work of reference known, doubtless, to many of you as the
"Cyclopedia of American Biography." In turning over its pages, I
found sketches of the first and second of the Astor Family, and some par-
ticulars regarding the Hon. William Waldorf Astor, the present heir to
the estate ; but no more than the barest mention of the name of him who
forms the subject of this address. The learned and accomplished editor
of the work referred to. General James Grant Wilson, in casually refer-
ring to the fact in a letter to me, wrote as follows : " The explanation is
that Mr. Astor requested me as a personal favour to say as little about him
as possible. Indeed he expressed a wish that his name should be omit-
ted ; but that, I said, was impossible, and it was for that reason that he
was very briefly mentioned." Knowing, as I did, the sensitive reserve of
that modest, Christian gentleman, and divining his wishes, I have felt
under a certain restraint in making the remarks which have been thus
submitted to your consideration.

In his life, our friend kept up the honour of the name, and bore with
patience the heavy burden of his responsibilities. In dying, he trans-
mitted the double inheritance of a sterling character and an immense
fortune to his only son. This is not the place, nor is this the occasion,
to comment on the position of that honourable and distinguished gentle-
man, or to proflfer counsel as to his conduct ; but, it may be said, with-
out impropriety, that during his temporary absence in a foreign land, he
is often in the thoughts of his countrymen, and that they must inevitably
regard his own career with deep interest and earnest expectations. The
State, like the family and the Church, exists by divine sanction ; her citi-
zens are her children, having duties to the commonwealth second only
to those to the Great Creator and Merciful Saviour of mankind, and to
the beloved inmates of their homes. It is true, of the citizens of this
metropolis and of this republic, that all are debtors to the common weal ;
and obviouslv true, moreover, that to whom much is given, of him shall

1 89 1.] E,\ tracts /rom the Early atid Original Records. 127

much be required. Rich men are, and will always be, the objects of
unfriendly and unfair criticism ; it is impossible for them to satisfy the
demands of that innumerable horde who choke each avenue by which
they can be approached, or the instructions of those officious individuals
who mark out for their neighbours the exact line of conduct which ought
to be pursued. The gibes and reproaches of disappointed applicants,
and the counsel of meddlesome people, may be, without qualm of con-
science, disregarded ; but it is another and a becoming thing to call the
attention of men of wealth to their mission and their dread trusteeship,
and remind them of their obligations. Some things stand fast, and some
things change. God, and Religion, and the Church abide ; while, in the
State and Society it may be that the old order is to pass, and yield to a
new one, and that the time for startling transitions is nearer than we
think. We, therefore, in scanning the coming age, and considering the
problems of the hour, look with expectation, and I will say with anxiety,
to those who hold, by the will of God, leading places among us, and
have at their control the forces which make or mar around and beneath
them. Such men have our sympathy, and our best wishes ; it is our hope
and prayer, that the base, the sordid, and the merely personal will fill no
place in their motives ; that what they have received of honour, reputa-
tion, and character, they will keep to the credit of their line and to the
advantage of their own reputation ; that they in turn will be, as they
ought to be, public benefactors, faithful in stewardship during their life,
and after their departure commemorated by monuments attesting their
wisdom, their judgment, and their liberality.

The name of Astor has been and is now identified with the ideas of
honesty, industry, patriotism, and public service. We believe that it is
safe in the hands of those who have it to-day in their keeping, and that
it will retain in our metropolitan annals the place in which it is honour-
ably inscribed.


Made hv Chaplain Rosweix Randall Hoes, U. S. N.

Register Book of the Church of England of Hempstead, Long

Island, N. Y.

The Rev. Mr. Thomas, of this church, writing to the Secretary of the
Venerable Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, on
the 22d of April, 1707, says:

" I have often laid before my Vestry the Necessity of a Register Book in
the Parish but to no purpose, having no methods of raising a fund to de-
fray that and such like publick exigencies ***** I hope to buy
a Register Book, w"^ I bespoke already, and then I shall [take] particular
care to register all Christenings, Marriages and Burials according to our
Instructions from the Venerable Society. I have baptised some Scores [of]
Infants & Adults since my Arrival here, and married some dozens of

128 Extracts from the Early and Original Records. [July,

Copies but wou'd never receive a farthing perquisites for them hither-
to." (See Letter Boolv of S. P. G., vol. 3, No. 67.)

Murder of the Hallet Family at Hellgate, in 1708.

The following extract of a letter from the Rev. William Urquhart, of
the Church of England of Jamaica, L. I., gives a number of particulars
relating to this tragedy which have never yet appeared in print. The let-
ter is dated Feb. 4, 170^^, is addressed to the secretary of the S. P. G., and
is recorded in Letter Book No. 3, document No. 176, of the Records of
that Society :

******* "One \V"' Halliot jun"^ who lived at a place
called Hellgate (it has the name from the Difficulty of Vessels passing up
and down the River). The Husband the wife and five children in less
than quarter of an hour were murdered by one Indian Slave whom he
had nursd up from 4 years old. There was a Negro Woman Slave in y*
house, who was abetting to him in Counselling and perswading him to
this bloody murder, but he confessed y' his hands murthered them all
after this manner. W"" Hallet and his Wife had been at Justice Hallet's
house (the father of the said W" jun'') with some others of their friends.
About 7 at Night he came to his House, and his wife being weary, went
to bed and all the Children : The Husband sat in the Chimney Corner
sleeping as his Custom was : The Slaves were watching their Opportunity
(for they were resolved to do it that night) and the House being some-
thing dark Sawney, for so is the Indian Slave's name called came into
the House, and had an Axe laid behind the Door, and seeing his Master
asleep took the Axe and struck him first w"" the Edge and then with
the back on the Head. The first stroak waked his wife who was
abed in the same room and she called Murder, whereupon he left him
and struck her with the back of the Axe on the Head. There was one
Child lying by the Mother, who did not awake as yet and there were two
lying in a Truncle bed, about 7 or 8 years of age. Those he murthered
next and all with the back of the Axe on the head, then he dragged the
young Child out from its murthered Mother and knocked it on the head.
Then went above Stairs and murthered the two children that were there.
This he confessed and that there were some others that knew of the Mur-
ther. The Negro woman confessed the same. My Lord Cornbury is-
sued out a Special Commission of Oyer & Terminer, to Chief Justice
Montpesson, Judge Milvvard, Col. Willet & some others for their Tryal.
Munday last being the 2d of this instant, the Indian man was hang'd
and hung up in chains. The Negro woman was burnt alive. The Couit
is adjourned till next Week in hopes of further discoveries : There are
now in Custody upon suspicion 4 Negro men, and 2 Indians all Slaves,
not Natives here. I am afraid to loose this post and if so, this fleet but
pr next I shall give an Account what Discoveries are made in relation
to this horrid murther."

The " Distemper " in New York in 1702.

George Keith, writing from New York, on the 29th of Nov., 1702, to
the Secretary of the Venerable Society, says :

"It hath pleased Almighty God to preserve us both in good health all
the time since our arrivall into America notwithstanding many have been

1891.] Extracts from the Early a7id Original Records. 129

visited with great Distempers in diverse Parts which have proved mortall
to many in the Town of New York where near five hundred persons dyed
in the space of three months, but now thanks to God the place is very
healthfull." (See Society's Letter Book I., document No. 50.)

Contribution to the Ecclesiastical History of Hempstead and
Oyster Bay. — Houses of Worship. — Episcopalians, Independents,
Presbyterians, and Quakers. — Census. — Names of Smaller Vil-
lages IN Hempstead and Oyster Bay, — Schools and School-Mas-
ters. — Price of Tuition, &c., &c. — 1728.

The following letter was written by the Rev. Robert Jenney to the
Secretary of the S. P. C, and is recorded in Letter Book No. 21 of that
Society, page 339 :

"I Rec'^ yours of June y'^ T6ih 1727. So late in the Summer, &
our Winter has been so very Severe that I had not an Opportunity be-
fore this to answer your Six important Questions containd in it nor truly
am I able yet to give you as full and perfect Account of the Several Parti-
culars contain'd in them as I wou^ But what 1 am able to send you is
as follows.

"Altho the two Townships of Hempsted and Oysbay [Oyster Bay]
make but one Parish being so Settled by Act of General Assembly under
the name & title of the Parish of Hempsted, yet to avoid Disputes w^''
might arise between y^ two from their different interests which will some-
times Clash they made immediately upon their Settlem' a private Agree-
ment to Act Independently of one another and that each shou"^ enjoy
its Advantages & Priviledges in proportion to the Share they pay of the
tax laid upon them — one third for Oysterbay and two thirds for Hemp-
sted. I have made it my Business to discover the History of the Building
of our Church and the most Exact Amount that I can obtain is from Mr.
Gilderslieve, Schoolmaster in Hempsted. He tells me that Hempstead
was Settled for some time before they had any Minister or House of Divine
Service. The first house that was built for that purpose was a very small
one we have now. And that Travelling Preachers sometimes In-
dependents sometimes Presbyterians for the most part from New Eng-
land did now and then Afficiate w^'out any Covenant w* the People or
Settlem' by Law in the Year 1680. The Town agreed to build a better
house for Divine Service by the name of a meeting house but after it
was built there arose a great Controversy between y^ Indepen'^ & y*"
Presbiterians, in which y® Latter got the better and one Denton was Cov-
enanted with to be their Minister, but he soon left them, as did Several
others that were afterwards Covenanted with after y^ Same manner till y"
Arrival of M"" Thomas from the Hon'''^ Society upon the Settlem' of y^
Parish by Law & they inducted him into the possession of the Church
parsonage house & gl. [Glebe].

"The Church is an ordinary wooden building 40 foot Long & 26 wide.
The Roof is Cover'd with Cedar 8hing[les] and the sides Clapboard with
oak. Within it is not Ceiled over head but the Sides are boarded with pine.
There is no pulpit but a rais'd Desk only having a Cloth and Cushion
of Silk (the Cloth seems to be designed for a Table) w"*" they say was a
p'"seut from Queen Anne. A Large Table Stands before the Desk where
the Justices and leading Men sit when they come to Church. And this we

1 OQ Extracts from the Early and Original Records. [Julv,

are forced to make use off for a Communion Table when we receive the
Sacram' of y*" Lord's Supper. There are in it no pews except one for
IM' Sec'^ Clark, the rest of y'' Church is fill'd with open benches. It is
not kept in good repair which Occasions thin Congregations in Cold
Weather. There is no fence round it & the burial Place is at some
Distance from it. It Stands in the open Road near a Small brook which
runs between it and the Parsonage House. The INIinister's-Sallary is Settled
by Act of Assembly £60. pr Ann, of which Hempsted pays 40 and Oy-
sterbay 20 by agreem' between them. I have in Possion an old ruin-
ous house much out of repair near the Church with three Acres of
poor worn out land y^ Pasture of w"^** will not support one House.
There belongs to this personage [parsonage] a form [farm] ab' five miles
distant containing 172 acres of upland & twenty five of Meadow. I have

Online LibraryNew York Genealogical and Biographical SocietyThe New York genealogical and biographical record (Volume 63) → online text (page 17 of 30)