The Parsonage Between Two Manors



Pages  274-287

[Page 274]          

     The perpetual leases given by the Van Rensselaers of the Lower Manor were considered equivalent to a sale, and brought to Claverack a class of men whose distinction gave the town a reputation beyond that of the settlements of the neighboring Manors, and whose family residences compared favorably with the Manor Houses.

     William Henry Ludlow came to Claverack form New York some years before the War, and opened a grain store.  As the raising and selling of crops was the business of farms for miles around, and Claverack was the place of exchange between the country and the "Landing," this business was of great importance.  All traces of this first grain depot have passed away, but the fine colonial mansion which Mr. Ludlow built in 1786 still stands, and hanging upon its walls are the portraits of many of the early settlers of Claverack, [page 275] and the branch of the Livingston family with which they intermarried, for back and forth between these two great estates came the sons and grandsons of the Lords of the Manors, seeking wives among the daughters of those who had bought farms, and built homes in this section of the country.

     The first owner of the Ludlow mansion and his wife with their high-bred faces, the merchant of that day in ruffled shirt and with lace dropping over his hands, look across into the faces of Robert Morris, the son of Chief Justice Richard Morris of "Bob Hill" fame, a prominent man of his day, and his wife, a sweet old lady in dotted-net cap, with kerchief and lace shawl below, and the tapering fingers of her time.  The two families intermarried after the War, and later again with the family of Robert Fulton, whose portrait by Benjamin West holds an honored place among the rest; and all these pictures of the Claverack families of the past show gentle blood and courtly bearing.

     Most of these earlier families built a second house, which is the one which stands to-day.  This was the case with the Millers who descended from Cornelius Stephense Muldor who bought his thousand acres [page 276] from the first proprietor of the Lower Manor.  This family sent its branches into a many important positions in life as its acres were broad.  The old Race homestead in Claverack occupies  portion of the old Miller estate.  Here Court Martials were held during the Revolution.  Cornelius S. Miller was a member of the Vigilance Committee, appointed to arrest Tories who were often confined in the cellar of his house, as were also delinquents of the Claverack regiment under the command of Colonel Robert Van Rensselaer.  Killian Miller was a Member of Congress and Country Clerk, Stephen was a Presidential Elector and Member of Assembly, Hon. John I. Miller was Judge of the Court of Common Pleas in 1808 and Senator in 1821-22.  They held military commissions, and were prominent in political life, both at that time and in later years.  "On one occasion according to the late Joseph D. Monell, after a sharp political contest in which Cornelius S. Miller was successful, the young men of the town attached ropes to his gig and drew him home in triumph, Mr. Monell participating."

     This branch of the Miller family continued to use Dutch in its family intercourse long after English was [page 277] in common use, which would lead us to infer that they were among those lovers of the tongue of the home-land, who stipulated that the "Dutch call should remain unaltered, integer, as it stood," when an English colleague was called to assist Dominie Gebhard.

     Stephen Miller of this family, carried on a store of similar importance to that of Mr. Ludlow from 1790-1834 known as the "old store" which was said to have been "a central point of trade and barter, where the farmers for miles around gathered to obtain their supplies."  Previous to the time of railroads, transportation was carried on by wagons and sloops, and the country roads were never quiet or untraveled even in unpleasant weather.  A store-keeper of Hudson, who was interested in this traveling wagon-trade, tells in his journal written in 1816 of a ride to Austerlitz, a distance of twenty miles, on which trip he counted seventy-two farmers going, and seventy-six returning.  A country-store on the road to the "Landing" held and important place in those days.

     Killian Hogeboom emigrated from Holland, bringing an infant son Jeremiah with him, soon after Hendrick Van Rensselaer came into possession of the [page 278] Lower Manor.  His son Johannes was born in Claverack, and was the father of eleven children.  There seems to have been room for any number of children to grow and prosper on the Claverack farms, some of the Claverack families numbering among their relatives one hundred own cousins.  Cornelius Hogeboom, one of Columbia County's first Sheriffs, who was killed by the Anti-renters in 1791 was a son of Johannes.  Judge John C. Hogeboom his grandson, was said by his contemporaries in political life to have been "one of nature's great men," who, while rendering marked political service to his State, won the respect and admiration of both friends and opponents.

     Jeremiah Hogeboom was prominent in public life, as was also Stephen, his son, who was often Member of the Assembly and of the Constitutional Convention in 1801, also serving as State Senator.  One of his daughters married General Samuel B. Webb who came to Claverack to reside after the Revolutionary War.  General Webb had a most distinguished military career.  "Hearing of the battle of Lexington he went to Boston in command of a company of light infantry, was engaged and wounded at Bunker Hill, [page 279] was subsequently aide to Gen. Putnam, and private secretary and aide-de-camp to General Washington.  He was engaged in the battle of Long Island, wounded at White Plains and again at Trenton, and was in action at Brandywine.  In 1777 he raised the third Connecticut regiment, which was captured by the British fleet.  Colonel Webb was not exchanged till 1780, when he took command of the light infantry, with the brevet rank of Brigadier-General."  Soon after he made Claverack his place of residence, he made an important journey to New York.  This was at the time of the Inauguration of George Washington as President of the United States, upon which occasion he held the Bible upon which the President took the oath of office.

     General Webb lived in one of the houses built by the Hogebooms after an ancient Dutch model, about the year 1760.  Here in 1802 the General's son James Watson Webb was born, and until the house was burned in 1890 it was considered one of Claverack's most interesting landmarks.  While holding important historical prominence, it possessed at a later day an interest forever connecting it with the glad Christmas [page 280] season, for it was in one of its old fashioned rooms, that a descendant of the Hogebooms wrote that time-honored Christmas rhyme, "The Night Before Christmas."  The picture painted of the silent house, the broad chimney accommodated to the descent of St. Nicholas, and the sleeping children, all took place beneath its Dutch roof, and the prancing horses bringing "St. Nick" and his Christmas toys, were supposed to have been galloping over the gambrel roofs of Claverack.  A ride with children at a later date always embraced the road past the Webb house and its Christmas story.

     The Esselstyns came from Holland in 1659, and Marten Cornelise Ysselsteyn was one of the fourteen original proprietors of Schenectady, but the charms of Claverack drew him away from his original purchase, and in 1668 he sold his farm for three hundred and thirty beaver skins, and ultimately settled in Claverack, where he leased a large tract of land, and to the seventh generation, Claverack still holds his descendants residing on the ancestral estate.  We have no record as to whether the "beaver skins" paid for the new purchase, but the change of residence from [page 281] Schenectady to Claverack does not seem ever to have been regretted.  Military honors were plentiful in this family.  Richard E. was a Captain and a Major in the Continental army, while his son Jacob, following in his father's footsteps, went forth at fifteen to fight for his country, and was a Major in the war of 1812.  "The Esselstyns and Millers have at various times held nearly, if not all, the public offices in the county."

     The Van Nesses, than whom no family stood higher in social and political life in the first fifty years of the Republic, have been already mentioned in the fruitage of eminent men who gave renown to Washington Seminary.  This family was one of the earliest of those who built their homes along the Kolderberg (Post-hill); and who gave to that beautiful thoroughfare the name of being a very aristocratic section of Claverack.

     The descendants of Samuel Ten Broeck, who married Maria Van Rensselaer, the eldest daughter of Hendrick, and who, with his wife, were the first to live in Hendrick Van Rensselaer's new Manor House, remained in Claverack to the third and fourth generation, owning a tract of land now divided into four [page 282] farms.  Samuel Ten Broeck was one of the committee appointed to erect the first church in 1726.  Adam Ten Broeck served seven years in the War, and William Ten Broeck of this family was on the the "voorlesers" of the old Dutch Church.

     Like Captain Conyn, Fitz Muzigh of Livingston was hung up in his own cellar by the Tories, and was most fortunately rescued by a neighbor.  His son Hendrick acquired "a tenth lease" of one William Snyder of Claverack, with the consent of Colonel Johannes Van Rensselaer, agreeing to pay him "one-tenth of all the produce and four fat hens annually."  Upon this farm he built a house in 1770.  This house is still the property of his descendants, but the purchase in 1809 of the summer home of Hendrick Van Rensselaer, and their long residence there, has associated the Mesick name indelibly with this quaint old house, whose high ridge and sloping roof still remain, though the gambrel roof of the Van Rensselaer Manor days at the back  has undergone change.  This family have also held military commissions and filled civil offices, the first Lieutenant's commission being signed by Cadwallader Colden in 1764.

     [page 283] The Tobias Van Deusen house was built in 1742 with gambrel roof, and its gable end to the road once bore the date 1742 in figures over a foot long.  Tobias 1st married a Scotch lady of Linlithgo, and his son James, a daughter of Robert Hathaway, one of the early settlers of Hudson, who was a ship owner who sent "ventures" to the West Indies.  This couple seem to have been among the pioneers of the Dutch residents of Claverack who entered into marriage with the New Englanders of Hudson.

     Steadily in the early years after the "Proprietors" from Providence and Nantucket, bought land for a town from Peter Hogeboom and the Widow Hardick, one house after another was built by the Quakers on the turnpike road to Claverack.  Equally as steadily Claverack poured her citizens into the new town of Hudson, till eventually there came to be the mixed Dutch and Quaker race which are residents of this section to-day.

     Time would fail to tell the Rossmans and Hoffmans, the Philips and Russells, the Delamaters and Le Roys, Leggetts and Schumakers and Flemings and many others who have wrought large deeds for the [page 284] well-being of Claverack, and often for the native State as well.  Are they not all written in the County and State records and in every history of Claverack?

     It is the women of these families who raised housefuls of children, who saw their sons occupy positions of honor generation after generation, and their daughters marry and repeat their mother's lives, of whom it is difficult to find the records, yet these were a mighty factor in the life of Claverack.  We read it best in the quaint household utensils that tell of their daily labors, in the work of their hands in quilts and spreads, woolen sheets and woven coverlids made by their industrious fingers, by the beautiful embroideries of dress and furniture, the samplers with their virtuous rhymes, and the more impressive picture samplers, whose subjects were wont to be of tomb-stones and weeping willows, and wooden-armed mourners, hiding wooden features through the handkerchiefs held before their eyes.

     Occasionally there are favorite books to be found, very grave treatises on manners and personal piety, with a pressed leaf or flower between the leaves, or a worked card-board book-mark of a serious a design [page 285] as the samplers.

     There are tender family stories laid away as it were in lavender, by some lover of her ancestors; or some ludicrous incident of the long ago held fast in a humorous memory.  Sometimes one hears of a merry group of girls, the village beauties, and how many proposals they each boasted, giving their descendants the impression that proposals of marriage were as common and constant as the gentleman's attentions to his lady, and that the chosen wife at last, had she known, must have felt like the end belle of a long line.

      After all this,--from which we picture the woman of the past,--there are still occasional portraits so charming and characteristic, that one may read between the lines, and see the haughty dame whose head was carried high, the gentle matron whose heart is shown in her face, the sunshiny eyes and humorous curves to the lips in another frame, the serene faces of the women who were mothers at sixteen, the sad and the glad,--and we gain a fresh insight into the personalities of our fore-mothers.

     Thus we come to know the women of yesterday, who are in no records, yet who graced the homes of [page 286] Claverack and of other colonial towns, who visited each other, rejoicing and weeping with their friends in turn, who filled their days with earnest labors, who walked the village streets, and were driven over the roads, and tripped across lots as their descendants do to-day, pleased with the first wild flowers, tending their gardens, planting tiny trees that now shade us from the heat of the summer sun, watching the glistening icicles that hung to the pine-needles, and the snow drifts that blocked the road and hid the fences, owning and loving the world they lived in, and their husbands and children in that time of long ago.

     Though this Claverack world of men and women and children, Dominie Gebhard walked for fifty years, social and vivacious, but always dignified and courteous, his personal amiability making him a peacemaker in the congregation, and as a pastor a most welcome visitor, carrying with him to his outskirting churches a genial fellowship as well as a clerical blessing.  One of the descendants of these families of the past has said of him, "For nearly half a century he filled a large place, albeit a man of small statue, in the religious, social, and education life of Claverack.  His [page 287] memory is a shrine at which even the descendants of those who lived under his ministry never cease to worship."