Catskill Cemetery Papers
Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin
Tuesday Evening, August 1, 1865
Accidentally meeting, the other day, with the fac-simile of an ancient Roll of Attornies of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, I discovered, among the latest signatures, that of JOHN VAN DER SPEIGLER SCOTT, affixed June, 1791. The sight of the old document recalled to my mind the Courts and Bar of Greene County, some fifty years ago; and, as I have thitherto neglected to pay proper attention to that portion of the old inhabitants, I propose to devote this and, perhaps, one or two succeeding papers to the subject. Many of those who were prominent lawyers when I was young, have died so recently that their names are yet fresh in the recollections of the middle-aged among your readers; of these are JACOB VAN ORDEN, JAMES PINCKNEY, ROBERT DORLON, JOHN ADAMS, and others. One, JAMES POWERS, having suffered and surmounted as much of physical affliction as usually falls to the lot of man, still survives, and, when I last met him, I was pleased to see that he was, apparently, making fair progress on his return to the borders of rejuvenescenes. *(Since deceased.) I remember others, however, who have probably passed from the memories of most of your readers. Among those were JESSE BRUSH, JAMES BILL, JAMES F. WIGHT, MOSES I. CANTINE, SAMUEL VAN ORDEN, AUGUSTUS DONNELLY, CORNELIUS DUBOIS, JACK HAIGHT, GROSVENOR, BEACH, CAMFIELD, and others whose names will probably recur to me as I proceed with these sketches.
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My earliest remembrance of Courts and lawyers in Catskill, date back to the time of the trials of KAVANAGH, and of LENT, and SICKLER, for the murder of SALLY HAMILTON. That event, from its atrocity and the mystery which enveloped it, filled for a long time, the minds of the people, not only in the immediate vicinity of its occurrence, but throughout the whole Country. The circumstances were, as nearly as I can remember, as follows: SALLY HAMILTON, a daughter of SAMUEL HAMILTON, Esq., of the "upper Purchase" at Athens, had been making an afternoon visit to a neighbor, and about dark, started to return to her father’s house, which, although but a few rods distant, she never reached alive. Her absence from home, until an unusually late hour, causing some anxiety, enquiry was made at the place where she had been visiting, and as she was not found there, nor at any other of the neighbors’, her parents became alarmed, the inhabitants of the village were aroused, and diligent search instituted for the missing girl. Some person than remembered to have heard, or fancied they had heard, cries of distress in the early part of the evening, but as the night was boisterous and blustering, these sounds were supposed to be but the wailings of the wind. At an early hour of the succeeding morning, the body of the unfortunate girl was found in the water, under a bridge crossing a small stream, which has, ever since, been called, "Murderers’ Creek." I have heard Miss HAMILTON described as a lovely, modest and amiable young lady, and it was not strange that the whole community should be violently excited, and the most earnest measures be adopted to bring the perpetrators of this foul act to punishment. I believe there were a number of arrests made, but the first which I recollect was of one KAVANAGH. No testimony sufficient to convict him was however adducted, and he was acquitted and drummed out of town, probably as a punishment for his ill-looks, for he had the most villainous countenance I have ever seen.
Some time afterwards, a man of the name of SICKLER was indicted for this murder, on the testimony of a comrade named LENT, the latter being accepted as a witness for the State. On the trial, LENT gave a circumstantial account of the affair, telling how himself and SICKLER seized and maltreated the young woman; how she shricked for help; how they killed her; how they dragged her body to the creek; and how they lifted a plank from the bridge and thrust her into the water. He also swore that after the commission of the crime, they passed through Catskill, in the early dawn of the following morning, and saw one man, whom he described, standing at the door of a porter-house or grocery, and that he was, apparently, the only person stirring in the village. Confirmatory of this evidence, the person described (I believe it was CURTISS GRAHAM) testified that early one morning, about the time specified by LENT, he saw two men resembling the prisoner and witness, passing hastily down Main Street. And yet, mirabile dictu! Notwithstanding the direct testimony of the man who confessed his own participation in this horrid crime, and the partially corroborative evidence of GRAHAM, neither of these men were guilty of this murder, nor were they within thirty miles of Athens at the time of its commission!—Officers of the United States Army were summoned as witness, who swore positively that both LENT and SICKLER were in the barracks at Greenbush, at tattoo, at nine o’clock of the night of the murder, and also present at reveille at day-break the following morning. The fact was that these men, a few days subsequent to the night referred to, had escaped from the camp, and being closely pursued, and fearing to be captured and shot as deserters, they had preferred to throw themselves into the clutches of the civil law, by assuming to be the perpetrators of a deed which could not fail to come to their ears, as the whole country was ringing with it. The result was that LENT was indicted, convicted and sent to the State Prison of Perjury, and SICKLER, being acquitted, went "scot free," the war having terminated, and martial law being consequently abolished.
After this, I believe, there were no more arrests for this crime, and the affair gradually died out of the minds of all, save the gossips, who for some time busied themselves with vague conjectures and flimsy theories, among which were those of unrequited affection and suicide.
Many years after, a school-teacher of Hudson, (who was said to have been the intimate friend of Miss HAMILTON in her life-time) while skating from that city of Catskill, fell through the ice, opposite PENFIELD’S and was drowned. It is scarcely credible that he knew any more of the manner of the death of Miss H., than others—at all events, the mystery will now, probably, remain unrevealed to human ken forever.
But I return from this digression to my proposed subject—the Bench and the Bar.
The first presiding Justice (or First Judge) of our County whom I clearly remember, was GARRET ABEEL. He was not, I believe, a member of the legal profession, but I have always heard that he was a most excellent magistrate, and that all his rulings and decisions were based in sound sense, and were indicative of a fair degree of legal acumen. He had a sort of nervous affection, and, like most of the Dutchmen of that day, was an inveterate smoker; and sometimes, when I have seen him with a long clay pipe in his mouth, and a nodding head, engaged in adjudication, I have been puzzled whether to compare him to RHADAMANTHUS or WOUTER VAN TWILLER.
My first introduction to the ABEEL family was when I could not have been more than three years of age, (probably less,) and I only refer to it as a proof of a rather uncommon retention of memory. There are some living who must remember what was called "the CLARK fire." it broke out in the hatters’ shop of CORNELIUS CLARK, opposite the present site of the Catskill Bank, and consumed, I believe, three or four buildings. It occurred at night, and I have a distinct recollection of seeing the blaze of the conflagration, as I was carried in my mother’s arms through our garden and across the back street, and deposited in bed at the old stone house of Judge ABEEL. I remember that, when quite young, I stood very much in awe of the Judge, but as I grew older and became better acquainted with him, I found him to be a very pleasant and sociable old gentleman. Among my happiest recollections are the hours which were spent in his spacious Dutch kitchen, or playing hide-and-seek in his hay-mow; and when I was permitted to ride one of his horses to pasture (bare-backed and with a rope halter) I felt more real gratification than (I venture to say) even you, Mr. Editor, can possibly experience when astride the BUCEPHALUS of which you have recently become the proud possessor.
The children of Judge ABEEL, whom I remember, were DAVID G. and ANTHONY, who occupied farms at and about "the Bockover." DAVID G. was an officer in the last war with England, and is still living. *(since deceased), ELEANOR, or "NELLY," married CHAS. BAKER. CHAS. C. ABEEL was a lawyer, married a MISS CANTINE, was County Clerk about forty years ago, and died not long since in Ulster County. [His son HECTOR has been, for some time past, a Justice of the Peace in Marbletown, and another son, HOWARD, who was for a little while a clerk of mine, is now a respected an successful merchant in Albion, Orleans Co.] BETSEY, another daughter of Judge ABEEL, is still living, celibate. ANN married HERMAN M. ROMEYN, of Kingston, and CATHARINE married BENJAMIN P. DUBOIS, of Catskill. JOHN, commonly called "the setter," and MOSES were nearer my age, and were my friends and associates in many a scene of fun and frolic. JOHN married LYDIAETTE PRESTON, (a chere amie of Mrs. P.’s, in their girlhood.) Of all the sons of GARRET ABEEL, there are none surviving, to my knowledge, except the oldest and youngest—DAVID G., *(Since deceased) and MOSES. The latter resides at West Catskill, or did not long since. His wife was BETSEY BAKER, a grand-daughter, I think, of good old Mother KANE, of whom I have before made especial mention.
But I have dwelt longer than I intended, and, perhaps, longer than will be interesting to your readers, upon Judge ABEEL and his descendants. Arriving at the age when men became legally (though seldom mentally) incapacitated for judicial positions, he retired from the Bench, and was succeeded by MOSES I. CANTINE, who was, I believe, a brother of Mrs. ABEEL, and who married a Miss HOES, a sister of Mrs. MARTIN VAN BUREN. Mr. CANTINE did not long remain in office, being, soon after his induction as Judge, associated with ISAAC Q. LEAKE as State Printer and editor of the Argus, at Albany, to which city he removed, and where he not long after died. He was succeeded by JOHN V. D. S. SCOTT, of whom I have heretofore written as some length in the "Harmony Lodge Papers."—Judge SCOTT, continued in office until his death, and his successor was DORRANCE KIRTLAND, of Coxsackie. At the expiration of Judge KIRTLAND’S term, and I am not sure whether it was closed by limitation or by death, MALBORNE WATSON became First Judge of Greene County, and he occupied that position when I left Catskill twenty years ago.
As I find most of the foregoing names on my list of attornies, I shall speak of them more in detail when I come to sketch that class of the old inhabitants of Catskill, Good night.