HUDSON'S EARLY PROGRESS,
AND VARIOUS CITY MATTERS
COLUMBIA COUNTY, NEW YORK
By Captain Franklin Ellis109
The growth of Hudson in its early years was universally mentioned by the writers of that day as something unheard-of and marvelous. In an issue of the New York Journal, printed in the year 1786, its increase in population and business importance is spoken of as having been unparalleled, particularly during the two years succeeding its first settlement. It mentions that in the spring of 1786 the city contained several fine wharves, four large warehouses, "a covered rope-walk, spermaceti-works, one hundred and fifty dwelling-houses, shops barns, one of the best distilleries† , and fifteen hundred souls;" to which it adds the statement that "upwards of twelve hundred sleighs entered the city daily for several days together, in February, 1786, loaded with grain of various kinds, boards, shingles, staves, hoops, iron-ware, stone for building, fire-wood, and sundry articles of provisions for the market."
This is certainly a remarkable showing of growth in a place which only two and a half years before could boast no more than a score or so of agricultural inhabitants, and a sloop-landing. And this account makes no mention of the twenty-five sea-going vessels then hailing from Hudson, or of the ship-yards from which had been turned out at least one ship (the "Hudson," three hundred tons, Captain Robert Folger), then ready for sea, while others were on the stocks in process of construction.
The innkeepers licensed in 1786 were as follows: John McKinstry,‡ Justus H. Van Hoesen, John Schermerhorn, Seth Tobey, Dirck Van De Ker, John Colvin, Dr. Joseph Hamilton, Cornelius Van Deusen, Nicholas Harder, William Hardyck, John Mandeville, Russell Kellogg, Ezra Reed, John Rouse, Nicholas Van Hoesen, Henry Lyon, Nathaniel Winslow, Justus Hardick.
This list of public-houses certainly seems large, but its size is perhaps in some measure accounted for by the very large country trade, indicated by the daily arrival of twelve hundred sleighs, the greater part of them probably coming from a considerable distance.
The individuals and firms licensed in 1786 "to retail all kinds of spirituous liquors" were Gorton & Frothingham, Cotton Gelston, Joseph Barnard & Co., Thomas Jenkins & Co., Teunis A. Slingerlandt, Green & Mansfield, Alexander Coffin, John Thurston, Gano & Wall, William G. Hubbel, Seth Jenkins, Benjamin Folger, Reuben Folger, Worth & Dayton, Stephen Paddock & Son, Dayton & Chase, and David Lawrence.
It would seem that, at that time, the retail liquor trade must have been a highly respectable business, for we find here, in the list of those engaged in it, the names of the mayor, the recorder, and four of the councilmen of the city, and fifteen of the solid men known as the original proprietors of Hudson.
In the year 1790 (June 12) Hudson was made a port of entry; a measure which seemed fully justified by the rapid growth of her commerce, and which was very largely the result of the influence and efforts of her distinguished citizen, Hon. Ezekiel Gilbert. The first appointment as collector of the port was given to Henry Malcolm, who was succeeded in the office by Isaac Dayton.
Three years later the Bank of Columbia was chartered, with a capital of $160,000; and in the same year the post-office was a matter of much convenience, and of no little pride to merchants and citizens. It was not, however, like the creation of postal facilities where none had existed before, for the mails had reached them with more or less regularity since the beginning of the settlement. At first they had come by way of Claverack, for, although Claverack post-office was established less than eight months before that at Hudson, yet for several years before that time mails had been received and delivered at that village, probably by an arrangement made with the postmaster at Albany. Some such arrangement was soon after made for Hudson, for as early as 1787 we find the arrival and departure of mails announced in print as follows: "New York mails arrive at Hudson, Tuesday, Thursdays, and Saturdays, at same hour." It does not seem likely, therefore, that the creation of the Hudson post-office had any immediate effect on the frequency of the mail service to and from the city, for it is certain that only a tri-weekly mail reached here for some years afterwards.
About this time and during several succeeding years fractional bills were emitted by the city for circulation in place of small silver and copper coins, both of which seem to have been extremely scarce. One of these emissions was in 1796, when (June 17) it was ordained by the council "that the Clerk be authorized to issue a paper currency in Small bills or notes not exceeding fourpence in any one bill, and to an amount not exceeding one hundred and twenty pounds;" and on the 9th of February, 1797, the same officer was "directed to Issue One Hundred pounds more of small bills on the same principles those were issued in June last, and to be allowed the same premium for Issuing and receiving the same." A year or two later it was ordered "that the Clerk have two hundred and fifty Dollars in Cents struck off and issued by him on the principles of the former emissions," and "that Mr. Folger and Mr. Rand be a Committee to examine the damaged bills now in the hands of the Clerk, and Certify the Amount and destroy them" The clerk was also directed "to pay to Elisha Pitkin, Esq., £4 2s. 6d. out of the Monies arising from the passing of the Corporation Tickets for paper for said Tickets, and that he also pay to Ashbel Stoddard £3 4s. 0d. for printing said Tickets." Nothing appears to show otherwise than that this fractional currency answered well the purpose for which it was intended.
For ten years prior to 1798 the safety of the city at night had been committed to the care of volunteer watchmen, taken in rotation from a body of citizens, who, to promote the well-being of themselves and their property, had mutually agreed to perform such service; and they received recognition from the council,* so far as to be invested with authority to arrest (while on duty) any persons whom they might consider as suspicious or dangerous to the public peace.
But in the year above mentioned, it having been thought advisable to form a regular night-watch, to be appointed by and wholly under control of the city government, it was ordained by the council, January 9, --
"That from and after the publication of this Ordinance, a Night-watch be kept by such persons as the Common Council shall, from time to time, appoint for that purpose, who, or at least two of them, shall constantly and Silently patrole the several Streets in the City from the hour of 10 O'clock in the evening until daylight in the morning, and Who are hereby empowered to stop and take up all and every person of Suspicious appearance or that do not give a satisfactory Account of themselves to the said Watchmen, and him or them Safely keep in a watch House or to commit him or them to the Bridewell or Gaol of the said City; and the keeper of the said Bridewell or Gaol is hereby authorized and required to take and keep all and every such Suspicious person until they can have a further examination before the legal authority of the said City.
"And in case any fire shall be discovered in the night season, the said watchmen shall give immediate alarm to the Firemen, Bell-man, and other citizens, and in all respects shall use their indeavors to preserve the City from fire, and also to Keep the peace thereof."
This was the first establishment of a police force in Hudson. The lighting of the streets was commenced during the same year. On the 6th of October, 1798, the council ordained,--
"That the City be lighted during the Dark Nights, and that the Recorder and Mr. Kellog be a Committee to Direct the construction of, and the place for, the Lamps, not exceeding Twenty in number, and are to provide Oil, and agree with Suitable persons to light the same."
And for this purpose an appropriation of three hundred dollars was made by the same authority.
It is probable that the "Dark Nights" on which the lamps were directed to be lighted were determined on by reference to the almanac, and that this method did not prove wholly satisfactory, for a short time afterwards it was by the council
"Resolved, That the Mayor be a committee to direct the lighting of the Lamps the next dark moon."
The "compact part" of the city--that is to say that portion on whose inhabitants and property taxes were levied for the support of the night-watch, the lighting of the streets, the fire apparatus,§ highways and streets within its limits, and for certain other expenditures for purposes chiefly benefiting such said inhabitants--was established by the council, and described as follows: "Lying and being within a line extending from the South Bay, at the south corner of the Tan-Yard fo Giles Frary, easterly to the house of Ezekiel Gilbert; from thence northerly through the Tan-Yard of James Nixon to a street known on the plot of the city by the name of Mill street; northwesterly along said Mill street to Hudson's River, and southerly along said River to the place of beginning.."
From the tax-list of Hudson for the year 1787, certified by Jacob Davis, Jonathan Becraft, and Isaac Northrop, assessors, are taken the following names, being those of all the inhabitants of the city who at that time were taxed upon an assessment of two hundred pounds (five hundred dollars) and upwards, viz.:
It is not probable, however, that this assessment represented more than one-tenth the actual value of the estates; it being then the custom (as it is now in many places) to assess at a very low figure, to gratify the tax-payers, who believed that this method had the effect to decrease the amount of their taxes.
In 1799 (Sept. 7), Elisha Pitkin was authorized by the council "to erect a suitable market-house on the Gaol Square on the north side of Warren street, and to occupy the same for ten years." A part of the necessary funds had already been subscribed. The remainder was to be furnished by Pitkin, who was thus to be reimbursed by a ten years' occupation. The market-house, however, was not completed until some two or three years later. It was known as the upper, or Fourth street market.
A curious ordinance "to prevent forestalling" was enacted by the council about this time. It was to the effect "that no person residing within the corporation of this city shall purchase any turkeys, geese, fowls, ducks, or any kind of poultry in order to sell the same again," and "that if any person shall sell from his or her shop or store or any other place within this corporation any of the above articles, having previously purchased the same in order to forestall or sell, and shall be convicted of the same, shall forfeit and pay the sum of five dollars for each and every offence."
It was also the custom to publish weekly, by authority, an "assize of bread," establishing the number of ounces which the sixpenny and shilling loaves must weigh until the next publication; and it was ordained that every baker or other person baking bread for sale should stamp the initials of his or her name on each loaf "in a distinct manner, that it may be distinguished after the bread is baked;" and it is made the duty of the inspector of bread to examine all bake-houses and bake-shops, "and on finding any Bread lighter than the assize then Published, shall immediately send such bread to the Poor-house for the use of the Poor of this city."
In April, 1801, Justus Van Hoesen, Cornelius Tobey, and Thomas Frothingham were appointed "a committee to superintend the execution of the law against Sabbath-breaking." On the 9th of May following the council resolved "that Mr Hathaway be requested to inform My. James Van Deburgh that his bonds will be prosecuted unless he shall, within four days, remove the Billiard Table out of his possessions."
†This distillery, built in 1785, stood on the site of
the Hunt & Miller stove-works. It was, as this writer states,
regarded as a model establishment of its kind. Several other
distilleries have existed in Hudson at different times, and their
business, particularly in the early days, was profitable. Brewing
was also, and has continued to this day, a successful industry in Hudson.
The first brewer here was Benjamin Faulkins, an Englishman, whose
establishment was near Titus Morgan's ship-yard. Soon after, there
came "David Coope, Brewer of Porter, Ale, and Beer, Brew-House near the
Market." Another of the early brewers was ------Auchmoody, whose
establishment was on Cherry alley, between Fourth and fifth streets. ‡The first innkeeper of Hudson. This house was on the site
of Mrs. R. W. Evans' residence. * This body, which was called the Citizens' night-watch, and was
organized chiefly as a protection against incendiarism or accidental fire,
first received recognition form the council Jan. 5, 1788. § For introduction of fire apparatus in the city see "Fire
†This distillery, built in 1785, stood on the site of the Hunt & Miller stove-works. It was, as this writer states, regarded as a model establishment of its kind. Several other distilleries have existed in Hudson at different times, and their business, particularly in the early days, was profitable. Brewing was also, and has continued to this day, a successful industry in Hudson. The first brewer here was Benjamin Faulkins, an Englishman, whose establishment was near Titus Morgan's ship-yard. Soon after, there came "David Coope, Brewer of Porter, Ale, and Beer, Brew-House near the Market." Another of the early brewers was ------Auchmoody, whose establishment was on Cherry alley, between Fourth and fifth streets.
‡The first innkeeper of Hudson. This house was on the site of Mrs. R. W. Evans' residence.
* This body, which was called the Citizens' night-watch, and was organized chiefly as a protection against incendiarism or accidental fire, first received recognition form the council Jan. 5, 1788.
§ For introduction of fire apparatus in the city see "Fire Department."