END OF THE PROPRIETORS' ASSOCIATION
COLUMBIA COUNTY, NEW YORK
By Captain Franklin Ellis110
Thomas Jenkins, the most prominent man among the proprietors of Hudson, died in the year 1808, in New York; from whence his remains were brought for interment to the city which he might almost be said to have created. The organization of the proprietors continued less than two years after his death, their last meeting being held May 23, 1810, of which Stephen Paddock was moderator, and Erastus Pratt clerk. They had some years before deeded all the streets, highways, and lands intended for public use to the common council, to be by them opened when, and as, the public interest might require, and it was now arranged and understood that their existence as an association should cease, and that their records should be formally delivered to the city. This action was most energetically, fiercely, opposed by Cotton Gelston, although it was into his own hands, as city clerk, that the documents were to be surrendered. In his antagonism to the proposition he seized the books and declared his resolve to destroy them if he could not otherwise prevent their transfer, and so heated did he become, that it was necessary to assign to three of the strongest men in the room (of whom Gilbert Jenkins was one) the task of his subjugation; but in the scuffle which ensued Mr. Gelston succeeded in partially destroying the papers by fire, and thus almost made good his threat. But the surrender was made, and the proprietors' organization became a thing of the past.
It cannot be denied that the associated proprietors of Hudson were a remarkable body of men. There is not often to be found in the history of this or of any other State the instance of an equal number of person of such intelligence, influence, wealth, social respectability, and worldly experience uniting themselves in a business enterprise, and prosecuting that enterprise with such energy and success; remaining associated for more than a quarter of a century, with never an instance of individual faithlessness to pledges given or to trusts reposed.
In an incredibly short space of time they built a city, whose bright prospects allured others from near and from far off; and to all worthy ones who came to share their prosperity they extended a friendly hand, and dealt with them justly and generously; often giving assistance, and never taking advantage of misfortune.
Narrow-mindedness and bigotry had no home with them. Most of them were members of the Society of Friends, but they welcomed all, without regard to religious belief. To churches of whatever denomination they freely donated sites for house of worship, and to schools and other enterprises for the public good they observed a similar policy. So just and enlightened a course of action, steadily pursued from first to last, could hardly have failed to bring the measure of success which they here so fully realized.
Next to Thomas Jenkins, perhaps Seth Jenkins was the most prominent and influential among the proprietors. He was the first mayor of Hudson, and continued to hold that office until his death (July 22, 1793). Another, Mr. William Minturn, early recognized the fact that the location at Hudson was too far inland for the successful prosecution of commercial pursuits, and, promptly acting on the conviction, removed in 1791 to New York, where he established the business which afterwards became so extended and profitable in the hands of the well-known firm of Grinnell, Minturn & Co. He died in 1799.
Much that would be of interest might be told of the others did our space permit. The last survivor of their number was Captain Alexander Coffin, who died in Hudson, January 11, 1839, in the ninety-ninth year of his age, having been born in Nantucket, Mass., Sept. 21, 1740. He was for many years a shipmaster of skill and sterling integrity, and finally discontinued the calling at about sixty years of age. In the winter of 1774 he had for passengers to London the consignees of the tea then recently destroyed in Boston harbor. On the opening of the Revolution he at once came out a firm supporter of the American cause and an unwavering patriot. He was twice a prisoner during that war. He had the honor to be a bearer of dispatches from Dr. Franklin, in Paris, to the American government. He was an intimate friend of John Hancock, John and Samuel Adams, and the leading Whigs of the Revolution. Twice he was elected to the Legislature of Massachusetts, was a member of the convention for amending the constitution of New York, postmaster and mayor of Hudson, and he discharged the duties of all these offices with satisfaction to his constituents and honor to himself. The author of "Random Recollections of Hudson" says of him that he was "one of Nature's noblemen, a man open and above board in all things, frank, generous, warm-hearted, and brave as Caesar, but withal hot as pepper-pot and fierce as a northeaster, yet neither rude, aggressive, nor implacable; a man whose name I never hear, and of whom I never think, without feeling a deep respect for his many noble and manly qualities. He was in fact the noblest Roman of them all." There are many yet living in Hudson who recollect the brave old man, and know that the above is true.