MONTGOMERY, LAFAYETTE, AND THE ERIE CANAL.
A dramatic event took place on the Hudson during the summer of 1818. For forty years the body of the brave General Montgomery had lain in Canadian soil. Janet Livingston Montgomery had only been allowed three years of happy married life with her soldier husband. Her years of bereavement had been many. When the request was made for her, to the governor-in-Chief of Canada, Sir John Sherbrooke, that General Montgomery's remains be removed to New York, it was courteously granted.
An act had been passed in a recent session of the Legislature of New York, recommending that a commission be sent to Quebec on this important errand, and Governor DeWitt Clinton appointed Lewis Livingston, a son of Edward Livingston, to received the remains and direct the formalities incident to the [page 289] removal. On July Fourth a military escort under the Adjutant-General and Colonel Van Rensselaer accompanied the body from Whitehall to Albany where there were impressive ceremonies. After resting in state in the Capitol over Sunday, the body was taken down river in the steamboat Richmond, the following day. The greatest respect was paid the passing boat by the citizens of the towns along the river, in many places minute guns breaking the silence. There were old soldiers and officers of the Revolutionary war still living, and many a tear-dimmed eye and lifted hat, watched the silent movements of this unique funeral bier, which brought the brave General back to his own after nearly half a century.
The Governor had acquainted Mrs. Montgomery of the hour in which the Richmond would pass Montgomery Place. Alone she waited on the verandah in front of her house as the hour approached. Since the good-bye spoken at General Schuyler's house at Saratoga, she had lived half a lifetime, always cherishing the memory of "her soldier," made doubly precious through the early tragic parting. As the wheels ceased to move, and the boat stopped in front of [page 290] Montgomery Place, over the water came the muffled music of the "Dead March," played by the band on board. A salute was fired and the Richmond proceeded on its way, leaving behind the grey-haired woman who had given her all for her country, and could still say, as she had written from Ireland some years earlier, where she was visiting General Montgomery's family, "When I return home I hope to find my dear country for which I have bled, the envy of her enemies and the glory of her patriots." The events of this July day were the crown of her great sacrifice and grief of years, and the glory of a country whose army had held such a soldier as General Montgomery.
General Montgomery's monument in front of St. Paul's chapel, New York, bears this inscription--
"This monument is erected by order of Congress, January 25th, 1776, to transmit to posterity a grateful remembrance of the patriotism, conduct, enterprise, and perseverance of General Richard Montgomery, who, after a series of success in the midst of the most discouraging difficulties, fell in the attack on Quebec, 31st December, 1775."
After the removal of Governor Montgomery's body [page 291] the following inscription was added--
"The State of New York caused the remains of Major-General Montgomery to be conveyed from Quebec and deposited beneath this monument the 8th of July, 1818."
The War of the Revolution was still leaving its aftermath in many ways, and it was not all sorrowful.
Hudson is said to have been one of the first cities in the Union, which sent a committee of invitation to Lafayette in New York, on his last visit to America, offering the hospitalities of the town.
In September, 1824, he embarked on the steamer James Kent, commanded by Captain Samuel Wiswall, the "Commodore," to make a tour of the Hudson, stopping along the way to meet old friends and to accept invitations which had been tendered him. He spent a morning with General Morgan Lewis and his wife, Gertrude Livingston, at Staatsburg, and after leaving their hospitable home, asked for his old friend Colonel Harry Livingston. A little later the steamer stopped at Kingston Point, and Colonel Livingston, who had crossed the river in a row boat, came aboard. Lafayette's joy at the meeting was [page 292] unmistakable. The two old friends rushed into each other's arms, giving one another a hearty kiss in true French fashion, to the surprise of the Americans aboard. Their close association in army experiences had made a tie of warm comradeship between them, not easily forgotten through the intervening years.
Chancellor Livingston's two daughters lived at this time in the Livingston homes at Clermont. The eldest had married Edward P. Livingston, a grandson of the Signer of the Declaration of Independence. He had been private secretary to Chancellor Livingston during the latter portion of his ministry to France, and at this time lived in the older of the two Manor Houses, the one rebuilt by Margaret Beekman, widow of Judge Robert R. Livingston, during the Revolution. In the Chancellor's home lived Robert L. Livingston who had married the younger daughter.
Upon the arrival of the James Kent at Clermont, with General Lafayette on board as the guest of honor, word was sent to the city of Hudson, when a "committee of citizens consisting of Rufus Reed Esq., Mayor Dr. John Tallman, and Colonel Strong, accompanied by two military companies, the Hudson Brass [page 293] Band, General Jacob R. Van Rensselaer and suite, and Brig.-General James Flemming and suite, proceeded upon the steamboat Richmond, Captain William J. Wiswall, to meet Lafayette at Clermont, and escort him to Hudson.
The reception given Lafayette at Clermont was a most brilliant social event. The lawn of the Chancellor's old home was beautifully illuminated, and for half a mile crowded with guests, while the water in front was dotted white with vessels bringing guests from the towns in the vicinity. The cups, plates ladies' gloves, and slippers, bore the likeness of Lafayette. It was a distinguished gathering, including among its numbers many of the most prominent citizens of the State.
Lafayette reached Hudson on the following day, and it is said, "met with a reception the most heartfelt and joyous ever bestowed on man." The procession through the streets was a notable one. As it stopped a moment before Mayor Tallman's residence (now the Graceland) his little boy, a very beautiful child, ran to the carriage to see Lafayette. The General was so pleased with the bright face of the little fellow, that he lifted him into the carriage with him, and the [page 294] the child reached the acme of boyish aspiration, as he rode through the streets of the town under the arches, and between the cheering lines of people, seated beside the visiting General.
The carriage in which Lafayette rode was drawn by four black horses, and attended by four grooms in livery. Following was a lengthy procession of military organizations and citizens of Hudson and Claverack, and other near-by places. The streets were crowded with people, all anxious to gain at least one look at the man America delighted to honor. The procession passed on its way through arches of evergreens, bearing inscriptions of welcome to America's friend, bowing cordially to the hosts which lined the thoroughfare on either side. At the head of the street surmounting one of the arches stood a colossal figure of the Goddess of Liberty, bearing the stars and stripes in her hand.
At the Court House Lafayette was received by the ladies of the town, and welcomed by the Mayor, to whom he responded in a brief speech. Here he met sixty-eight veterans of the Revolution and had a kindly word for each. It had been expected that he would dine in Hudson, but the beautiful and elaborate decorations of Allen's tavern, and the sumptuous feast provided, were a lost labor of love, since the delays of the Journey made it necessary that the guest of the day should leave without partaking in the banquet. He did alight, however, at this point, and admire the efforts made in his behalf, which included a wreath suspended over the chair designed for him, and contained an appropriate poetical welcome. After partaking of some light refreshment, be bade the multitude farewell, and embarked for Albany.
The beautiful water-way of the Hudson was the medium of transmitting the great public events of the day in this quarter of the world. One other spectacle of momentous import occurred the following year. Governor Clinton's dream and ambition had been to cut a canal through New York State, and thus unite the Great Lakes and the Hudson. Clinton met with similar experiences to those of Robert Fulton in his great project, and his political antagonists called his design, "The Big Ditch," and ridiculed his scheme, hampering him at every step. However, during at least a part of the long waiting time, he had the [page 296] encouragement of Gouverneur Morris and Robert Fulton on his committee, able coadjutors and courageous friends.
After fifteen years of hard work, and many discouragements, on October 26th, 1825, the canal, was finished, and everything was in readiness to let the waters of Lake Erie into the channel. There being no telegraph, the news was carried to distant points by means of a chain of cannon placed all along the route, to give notice of the event. The first gun was fired at ten o'clock; at eleven Albany rang out her salute of joy, and from then on all the way down the Hudson, the flashes told the story. It is easy to imagine the interest of the crowd on Round Top Hill at Hudson that October morning, and the villagers and farmers of Claverack were said to have gathered in large numbers at the Landing. At eleven o'clock and twenty-one minutes, New York city heard the glad tidings.
Nor were the fire-flash messages all. Four canal boats, with the Seneca Chief in the lead, followed, having started from Buffalo with a distinguished company on board. The canal boats did not travel as [page 297] quickly as the flashes, but their progress was triumphant. People gathered at every available place along the route to welcome the little fleet. Some of the citizens of that day thought the whole State had turned out to rejoice. There was a special celebration at Albany, where Ambrose Spencer, formerly of Claverack, was then Mayor. Sloops and steamboats saluted the whole length of the river, in which ovation the whistles and flags of the Hudson boats joined most heartily.
When the four canal boats reached New York, there were great processions on water and land. The boats moved down the bay beyond Sandy Hook amid greetings from the Forts, and here Governor Clinton lifted aloft a keg of Lake Erie water, and poured it into the ocean, thus mingling the two waters. The completion of the Erie Canal opened up a vast area in the central and western part of the State, paving the way to great cities, and increased commercial prosperity, almost past computation in its beneficial effects.