By Capt. Franklin Ellis 220
This is an interior town, lying south of the centre of the county, bounded by the north by Claverack and Hillsdale, east by Copake, south by Gallatin and Ancram, and west by Livingston. It is centrally distant from Hudson ten miles in a southeasterly direction, and contains an area of twenty-two thousand nine hundred and fifty-nine acres, of which five thousand nine hundred and sixty-eight acres are unimproved land. In population it ranks as the fifteenth town of the county, having in 1875 a population of fourteen hundred and one. In 1860 it was seventeen hundred and seventeen; in 1865, fourteen hundred and seventy-two; and in 1870, fourteen hundred and eighty-five. Its form is an irregular parallelogram, seven and one-fourth miles from east to west on its south boundary, and six and one-half miles form north to south on its east line.
The surface of the town is hilly. In the south and in the north part of the town they rise to considerable heights, in the central part they are more broken, and along the western line of the town they extend in a high ridge from Copake creek to the south boundary. The soil of Taghkanic is generally a gravelly and slaty loam, and quite productive. The hills are generally arable to their summits, but many of them are wooded, and some too rocky for cultivation. The abolition of the feudal system of leasing the lands has resulted in a marked improvement in the method of working the lands, and has aroused a spirit of emulation among the farmers that has led to the erection of better, more commodious, and more convenient buildings. This change has been so great that the fact of the country presents a much more cheerful, thrifty, and pleasant appearance, that is remarked by all observers. The best lands lie along the course of Copake creek, and extend, in the form of a quarter-circle, from the northeast corner to a point near the middle of the western boundary.
The principal stream is this creek, sometimes called "Taghkanic creek," but incorrectly, as it is the outlet of Copake lake, and the waters from which the term "Taghkanic" is derived are found farther south and east. This creek has some twenty tributary streams of more or less size, the principal one being the outlet of the Chrysler pond in Copake, which outlet joins Copake creek about midway of its course in this town. The banks of the creek are generally low and rocky, but rise to some height in a few places. The valley is narrow, and the lands slope from it pretty steeply. The course of the creek is quite rapid, and the numerous falls offer several fine mill-seats. One of the best of these is at New Forge, where the stream descends about one hundred feet in a distance of about forty or fifty rods. Another excellent fall is near the west part of the town, at Ham's mills.
The territory within the boundaries of this town is a part of the old Livingston manor, and nearly all the lands were held by lease until about 1844, when they began to be conveyed in fee, and now there are but a few farms that are owned by the members of the Livingston family. The amount of their assessment is $766,920.
The first settlement of this town was made during the first quarter of the eighteenth century by Dutch and German emigrants, who were induced by the proprietor of the manor to lease farms from him. On a map published by Beatty, in 1714, the residences of families named Witbeck, Class, and Brusie are located near Copake creek, but one of these, at least (the Whitbecks), was located in the present town of Copake. The general settlement of this part of the manor did not take place until several years later,--probably about 1750,--though from the meagre records and scant traditions it is very difficult to get anything like a correct, not to say full, knowledge of the first settlers and their settlements. The system of feudalism that so long oppressed the people of this section was ill suited to encourage the preservation of historical records or incidents. Families were constantly removing from one place to another, some were emigrating to the west, and only in rare instances did the original homestead pass from one generation to another. Indeed, in this town, within the recollection of one gentleman now living at the age of upwards of eighty years, every farm with but two exceptions has changed owners at least once, and many of them several times. For these reasons we are able to give but a meagre sketch of the early inhabitants of the town.
George Smith (called Yerry Schmidt by his Dutch neighbors) came from Germany to America many years previous to the breaking out of the Revolution, probably about 1755-60. He leased a large tract of fertile land in the east part of the town, lying on the banks of the Copake creek, and containing about two hundred and forty acres. His great-great-grandson, John L. Smith, now occupies the homestead, which has thus remained in the family for the unusual term of a century and a quarter. The farm was held under lease until about 1838, when the soil was purchased by a grandson and and great-grandson, Adam and Killian A. Smith, the latter of whom is still living on the homestead with his son. George had two sons, Killian and John. The former occupied the homestead after his father, and the latter leased a farm adjoining it on the east, known as the "Christie" farm, and now owned by Killian A. Smith. Killian I. Smith, another great-grandson, and son of John 2d, was a blacksmith, and settled in the south part of the town new New Forge, and worked at his trade there. A son of his, John K. Smith, is now living at West Taghkanic. Jacob Smith, a merchant at Valley Falls, near Providence, R. I., and Mrs. Hannah Williams, of Hillsdale, are great-grandchildren of George Smith.
Henry Avery, a native of New London, Conn., came to this part of the country about the year 1790, and opened a blacksmith-shop at Taghkanic, where he remained five years. He then removed to West Taghkanic, then called Miller's Corners, and leased a farm, containing two hundred and fifty-two acres, of James D. and Walter Livingston. He had a large family, consisting of thirteen children--six sons and seven daughters. Of these four are still living. They are Mrs. Sally Buckbee, of Peekskill; Mrs. Elizabeth Silvernail and Mrs. Caroline Kells, of Waukesha, Wis.; and Solomon Avery, who still resides on the homestead. Henry Avery was a man of considerable prominence in the town, and was frequently and almost continuously the recipient of offices of trust at the hands of his fellow-townsmen. He was once collector of taxes when the town (Livingston) included the present towns of Livingston, Taghkanic, Copake, Gallatin, and Ancram. He was also elected to other and more important trusts, and upon the division of the town, in 1803, was elected as the first supervisor of the new town of Granger, and continued to hold that office for twelve consecutive years. He was twice elected to the same office in later years. He was a justice of the peace for twenty-four yeas--twenty-one of them beging consecutive. He died in 1854, honored and respected by all who knew him.
Fite Miller was perhaps as widely known throughout the county as one of the citizens of this town. He came to the western part of the town at an early day, and engaged in the keeping of an inn. The location he selected was at the corners, which for a number of years bore his name, upon the man road from Salisbury to Hudson. He was very successful in his business, and established a high reputation for the fine accommodations and excellent entertainment furnished his guests. The road was much traveled by teams from the iron-works at Salisbury, Ancram, and New Forge, which were used to transport the product of those furnaces to the river for shipment, and also by large numbers of emigrants on their way from the eastern States to the then wilderness of western New York. Through these means the named and fame of Fite Miller were spread abroad, and travelers to the westward were constantly assailed with questions regarding his continued existence and prosperity. The hotel building remained standing for many years. As far back as 1812 it was an old building, and must have been erected as early as 1755 or 1760.
Friend Sheldon was a prominent citizen, and held the offices of justice of the peace and supervisor and many other town offices. He was a justice of the peace for a period of about twenty-one years. His farm was just north of the Avery place.
The Shaver family were among the earlier settlers in the south part of the town. One of the descendants of the family was Adam I. Shaver, who held the offices of supervisor and justice of the peace, and represented the district in the Assembly in 1836.
William Rockefeller was about the earliest settler in the neighborhood of Taghkanic village, and kept the first tavern there. He was succeeded in that business by Jonas I. Miller, who kept the inn for many years, and established a reputation as a successful landlord. The town business for many years was transacted at that house.
Jeremiah Shufelt occupied a farm in the northeastern part of the town.
John Bain, John Brusie, and the families of Miller and Schurtz were early settlers of the eastern part of the town. In the southern part Thomas Coons, Alexander Tanner, and Adam I. Strevel took up farms at an early date. The latter was quite prominent in politics, and was supervisor from 1818 to 1823, and again in 1825. He was justice of the peace from 1815 to 1831.
Among the earliest settlers in the western part of the town were John Best, Nicholas Van Deusen, Andrew Decker, Wendell Ham, Philip Houghtaling, William Blass, Whiting Hinsdale, and James Decker.
Jacob Boyce, Joseph Bachman, David Riphenburgh, Jacob Haner, Jacob I. Miller, John Waldorph, John Friss, Coonradt Silvernail, John Nichols, John Lown, Philip Ringsdorph, Wilhelmus Row, Jonas Bortle, Henry S. Miller, and Philip Coons were also early settlers in different parts of the town.
Gilbert Oakley came from some point on the Hudson and settled in this town, near the Copake line, on the farm now owned by John McNeil, some years before the Revolution. His family consisted of three boys and three girls. Two of his grandsons, Isaac and Jacob I. Oakley, are now living in Copake.
This town was taken from Livingston, and comprised the present towns of Taghkanic and Copake. It was formed as "Granger," March 19, 1803. Its name was changed to Taghkanic March 25, 1814, and in 1824 the town was divided, and the eastern part was called Copake. The name "Taghkanic," which not only designates this town but also the high range of mountains lying along the east border of the county, on the Massachusetts line, is of Indian derivation. On the western face of "Old Tom's Hill," in Copake, is a spring of an intermittent character to which the Indians used to resort, when on their hunting excursions, for a camping place. The waters of the spring were clear, sweet, and cold, and many a white man has since slaked his thirst at this fountain. This spring the Indians called "Tok-kon'-nik," said by some to signify "water enough," and by others to describe its intermittent character, "come and go." From the fact that the same name has been given to a picturesque fall on a stream emptying into Cayuga lake, it is more likely that the first is the better version. From this spring the name finally became attached to the surrounding flats, and eventually to the mountains. Upon the division of the town the part which was then entirely separated from the spring, the flats and the mountains, retained the name,--a fact not flattering to the good taste of those persons who had the business in charge.
The first meeting of the new town was held at the house of Jonas Miller, at what is now Taghkanic village; and from 1803 until 1830, a period of twenty-seven years, the town-meetings were all held at this same place.
The following is true copy of the record of the first town-meeting:
"Granger, April 5th, 1803.--At the first anniversary town-meeting held in said town, at the dwelling-house of Jonas Miller, in said town, on the day and year first above written, present: Thomas Trafford, Daniel Toucray, Justices of the peace. At which meeting the following persons were duly elected to the following offices, to wit: Jacob Decker, town clerk; Henry Avery, supervisor; Fite Miller, Philip P. Rockefeller, overseers of the poor; Philip P. Rockefeller, collector; Calvin Lawrence, Michael Wheeler, constables; Jonas Miller, pound-keeper; John Washburn, Peter Bain, Fite Miller, fence-viewers.
"At the above meeting the freeholders and inhabitants of said town voted to raise $125 by tax on said town for the support of the poor the ensuing year.
"Recorded by me,
"Jacob C. Decker, Town Clerk."
The town-meetings, until the town was divided, continued to be held at Taghkanic, but soon after they began to be held sometimes at West Taghkanic. This practice has continued to the present; each town-meeting fixing the place at which the town elections shall be held for the year ensuing. The town forms but one election district. In politics the town is decidedly Democratic. The following list contains the names of the supervisors, town clerks, justices of the peace, and collectors since the organization of the town: click here
On the question of temperance the town is in favor of the license system. The vote at the last town-meeting was: for the anti-license ticket, fifty-six; for the license ticket, one hundred and fifty-seven. The following commissioners have been elected since the act of 1874 went into operation, viz.:
In the work of examining the records of the town the writer of this found many curious and some ludicrous entries. Want of space forbids the mention of all but a few of them.
The first, which shows that the people of threescore years ago knew both the reputed medicinal qualities of alcoholic liquors, and the way to get a drink by pleading illness, is a document addressed to the overseers of the poor, and reads as follows, viz.:
"To JOHN BAIN & PETER W. HAM, Overseers of the Poor of the Town of Taghkanic: You are hereby ordered to Get for Cornelius Dougherty one-half of a Gallon of Gin, or give the means to him to Git it; he says he wants it to fix medicine for the Gravel, & by so doing this Shall be Your Voucher. Dated at Taghkanick, 22d day of October, 1824.
"ADAM I. STREVEL, Justice Peace."
Another, which is an extract from the accounts kept by the overseers of the poor, reads:
"April 21, 1823. paid Miles Avery for Doct. Bolton, on acct of peter allen's head, 8s., which said Bolton is to have; if he cures the head three more,--if not, no more. $1.00."
Another, from the same source, for articles furnished to John Ham, a "pauper with family," reads:
"to trouble, milk, tatoes, apples, and other necessaryes, $8.00."
At another time a meeting was held to "let out" the paupers to the persons who would either pay the most for their services or take them for the least money. An agreement was then entered into between the town authorities and John Is. Decker, by which the latter agreed, for the sum of one hundred dollars, to take charge, for one year, of one Isaac Is. Decker. In the document appears the following phrase: "Said John is to keep said Isaac in Victuals, clothes, and lodging during said term (and if necessary), pay Medical and Surgical aid, as far as puke, purge, or bleeding," etc.
Connected with the same subject is the following entry:
"Jan. 18, 1816. Paid to Lawrence J. D. Decker, for Isaac
I. S. Decker's funeral, in April, 1815:
The latest of these peculiar documents is the product of as recent a year as 1871, when the records certify that a number of individuals made their "avidavids" regarding their personal estate
Upon the organization of the town, the poor-debts for the town of Livingston for the preceding year were divided among the three towns of Livingston, Granger, and Gallatin, as follows: Livingston to pay $108.51; Gallatin, $104.70, and Granger, $93.97.
This town seems to have been the place of abode of several families of slaveholders. The records of births of slave children occur frequently on the books, and as late as 1826 a record of manumission was made, reading as follows, viz.:
"I do hereby certify that a black woman, named Sara, has this day bought her freedom of me.
"TAGHKANIC, 4th Feb., 1826. COONRADT SHADIC."
At the time of the organization of the town there were about one hundred and fifteen Senatorial electors, and about three hundred voters qualified to vote for members of Assembly.
During the late Civil War, this town raised large sums of money, which were paid out to volunteers to fill the quotas under the several calls for troops. At the close of the war a surplus of $4734.82 remained in the hands of the town officers. A special meeting was called, Jan. 9, 1866, at which this sum was ordered to be distributed pro rata among the tax-payers.