AUSTERLITZ, COLUMBIA COUNTY, NEW YORK
By Captain Franklin Ellis93
The town was organized from parts of the towns of Hillsdale, Chatham, and Canaan, March 28, 1878. A little more than one-fifteenth of the present town was taken from Chatham, a little over one-eighth from Canaan, and a little less than five-sixths from Hillsdale. From the fact that among the first settlers there were no less than twelve families of Spencers, the north part of Hillsdale and been known from the first as "Spencer's-town." This name finally attached itself simply to the village, and when the division of the town was being talked up it was proposed to call the new town "New Ulm." When the bill erecting it passed the Legislature, however, Martin Van Buren, then a State Senator, and who, being an ardent admirer of the great Napoleon, was somewhat incensed at one of his political opponents (Elisha Williams, if we mistake not), who had succeeded in having a town in Seneca county christened "Waterloo," leaped to his feet and moved to amend by calling the new town "Austerlitz." Having carried his point, he retired to his seat, saying "There's an Austerlitz for your Waterloo." The first town-meeting was held at the house of Elisha Murdock, in Spencertown, on the 7th day of April, 1818. Justices James Platt, Timothy Reed, David Leonard, Jesse Ford, and Jonathan C. Olmstead presided at the balloting, and John Tibbits, Esq., was moderator of the meeting. After passing the usual by-laws regarding fences, poor fund, and the running at large of domestic animals, and having voted that the fees of the collector, in excess of $55, should be applied to the support of the poor, and that the town auditing board should render annual reports of their action, they proceeded to elect the following officers, viz.:
Supervisor, Jonathan C. Olmstead; Town Clerk, Darius Cole; Assessors, Joseph P. Woolley, Aaron Brown, Sanford Tracy; Collector, James W. Shaw; Overseers of the Poor, George Lawrence, Bartholomew Williams; Commissioners of Highways, Elias Downing, John Morris, Jakah Lawrence; Commissioners of Common Schools, Erastus Pratt, Judah Swift, Azariah Pratt; Inspectors of Common Schools, Timothy Reed, Chattuck Childs, John Tibbits, Richard Barnes, Jonathan C. Olmstead, Albert Cole; Constables, Luther Chace, Lewis Bristol, James W. Shaw, Allen Hanor; Poundmasters, Judah Swift, Josiah Russell, David Morehouse, Nathan Osborn, Theodore Curtis; also a list of thirty seven overseers of highways. The meeting then adjourned to meet at the house of Lewis Bristol, in Green River (Austerlitz). Since that time the custom has been maintained of holding the elections each year alternately at the two villages.
The first vote of the town on the question of licensing the sale of intoxicating liquors was given at a special town-meeting, held for that purpose at the house of Major M. Tyler on the 27th day of April, 1847, and was: in favor of license, one hundred and two; opposed, one hundred and and thirty-four. The town still favors the no-license system. The excise commissioners elected under the present law have been as follows: 1875, Jacob Willetts, Albert Vincent, Anthony J. Micael; 1876, Isaac E. Clark; 1877, John Aiken; 1878, Anson G. Brown.
In politics the town is strongly Republican. In the first general election held for representative in Congress, in 1818, the vote stood: John I. Miller, 108; James Strong, 104; Robert Le Roy Livingston, 1; total, 213. In 1876 the vote stood: for Hayes and Wheeler, 208; for Tilden and Hendricks, 165: total, 373.
The town early adopted the plan of favoring the poor man by allowing his animals to graze in the highway. Several restrictive clauses were enacted at different times, one to limit the number to one cow, and another to allow none belonging to a person owning five acres of ground to run at large. In the year 1837, however, they inadvertently cast a serious slur upon the ones they meant to propitiate, and passed the following uncomplimentary law: "Voted, that no Cattle run in the Highway except the man which has but one Cow."
In 1818 the town was divided into seventeen school districts, containing an aggregate of three hundred and thirty-four families. At present there are twelve districts, Nos. 1 and 2 being consolidated into a union school district at Spencertown. The apportionment of public money among the several districts aggregates $1157.22 for the present year (1878).