Catskill Cemetery Papers
Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin
Wednesday Evening, August 9, 1865
Writing, last week, from very faint memory, of the Athens tragedy of fifty years ago, I am apprised that though my relation of the affair was substantially correct, there were some circumstances attending the trial which I had forgotten, and others of which I was uninformed. LENT, in his confession, told of the desertion of himself, SICKLER and two others, from Greenbush, a day or two before the murder; that they stole a boat and crossed the River; that they traveled some twelve miles into the country, and returning, came to a village where a Brigade Muster, or "General Training," was then held; that, after the murder, they slept in a barn two or three miles from Catskill; that they passed through the village early in the morning, and that they went on board a Catskill sloop bound for New York. All these statements were verified by evidence before the Court: the owners of the boat testified that it was stolen on the night named; it was proven that a general Militia muster was held at Coxsackie at the time stated; workmen in the employ of WILLIAM BRANDOW swore that they saw such men emerging from the barn before daylight; and Capt. VAN LOAN bore witness to the coming aboard of his vessel of certain rough looking strangers at about the time specified. It would seem that LENT’s testimony, thus corroborated, would have been sufficient for a conviction, and it probably would have been, had it not been for the witnesses from Greenbush barracks. As it was, Judge WM. W. VAN NESS stated to the jury that although, technically, the evidence might not warrant a verdict of guilty, yet, that he, himself, had very little doubt on the subject; and ELISHA WILLIAMS, the counsel for SICKLER, told him, after his acquittal, that, in his opinion, he was a guilty man and deserved to be hung. But the most important omission in my last week’s sketch, was that of a fact which has since come to my knowledge. I am informed by my old friend, Judge NICHOLS, who married a sister of the murdered girl, that some years ago, SICKLER, on his death-bed made a full confession of his guilt ! though this fact may somewhat detract from the romance with which mystery had enveloped the affair, yet it has the happy effect of terminating all the idle speculations of wonder-mongers, and of quieting all the doubts and fears and uncertainties of the few surviving friends of the ill-fated SALLY HAMILTON.
I find no tomb-stone in "Our Cemetery" bearing the name of JESSE BRUSH, and I presume he removed from Catskill before his death. My recollection of him, (if is can be called recollection, for it is quite indistinct), is that he was a very fussy, busy, stirring body, perambulating the streets in a long morning gown, with both hands apparently filled with briefs, declarations and judgement rolls, endeavoring to impress upon the minds of the crowd as idea of the vast extent of his professional business—indeed, one of that class known as "Philadelphia lawyers, with a pocket full of papers with no writing on." How long he remained in Catskill, or where he went, I don’t know, nor do I know anything of his family, except that I remember a pretty and amiable young lady named ANTOINETTE BRUSH, who, I presume, was his daughter.
When I knew James Bill he was Clerk of the County of Greene, and I probably should not remember him so well, if he had not given me (for my name, he said) the first six-pence of which I have any very clear recollection. At that time he was dress in nankeen knee-breeches, white stockings and buckled shoes, and was a perfect specimen of the old-school gentlemen. I don’t think he practiced much as a lawyer—at any rate, I only knew him as the incumbent of the Clerk’s office. He resided in the red house at the top of the hill on Thompson Street, after wards known as "the Croswell house," and which was, I believe, a few years ago rebuilt and enlarged by J. JOESBURY.
JAMES F. WIGHT was a son-in-law of Mr. Bill, and I only remember him as a dapper little fellow, who, for some reason of which I am ignorant, was known by the name of "Stoeffle Van dun der bergh." His partner, ____ BEACH, (I forget his first name) was a very quiet man, and reputed an excellent office lawyer.
Among the early attornies of Catskill, was JAMES PINCKNEY. He was native of Westchester county, born in 1776, and reared amidst the busy scenes of the Revolution on what was called the Neutral Ground. Doct. BOLTON, in his history of Westchester, says that the PINCKNEY mansion was, by turns, the favorite resort of both American and British officers; and I have been told, by one who ought to know, that COOPER, in his "Spy," alluded the place when describing the residence of the fictitious Mr. WHARTON.
JAMES PINCKNEY left home at an early age, and was for a time a clerk in New York for ABRAM BUSKIRK, (who, afterwards, retiring from business, built a country home at Athens, adjacent to the property of General Haight). Afterwards he was sent to Savannah by a New York house, with a stock of goods, but the firm failing just as he was returning home, he lost all which he had made by the operation. He then resolved to "seek his fortune" up the North River, and, with a fellow clerk named WILLIAM CAIRNS, took passage in a Catskill sloop. Arriving here, he found employment in the office of JOHN V. D. S. SCOTT, and concluded to study law. Soon after his admission to the bar he was attacked by asthma, and, notwithstanding that during his whole life he suffered much from that distressing complaint, he succeeded in securing a good business in the line of his profession, and held a number of judicial and clerical offices. He was, at different times, and for many years, a Supreme Court Commissioner; from the erection of the County, in 1800, until 1831, he was Clerk of the board of Supervisors; from 1821 to 1826 he was acting County Clerk; and for a long time, and until his death, he was a Commissioner of Deeds, and Examiner in Chancery, &c., &c. He died in 1834, leaving eight children, of whom but two are now living. He was my father, and it may be thought by some that it is not my province to speak more at length of his life and character. I know that he was a kind, indulgent and beloved parent, and I have never yet heard him spoken of, by others, in any other terms that those of respect and esteem.
The office of POWERS & ADAMS, as long ago as I can remember, was near the foot of Main Street, and they were very nearly, if not quite, at the head of the Greene County Bar. Of the early life of JAMES POWERS I know very little, if anything, and as he is still living, *(Since deceased), those who are curious in such matters are referred to "headquarters" for information. I know that he married a daughter of Judge STEPHEN DAY, that he was not only a good lawyer, but also a busy politician; that at one time he ably represented the Third District (then, I believe, composed of seven counties, and extending from Vermont to Pennsylvania) in the Senate of the State, and that he was a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1846.
JOHN ADAMS was, I think, a native of Catskill, but resided, in the early part of his life, at Durham. He came to this village about the beginning of the present century, and not long after, he became associated with Mr. POWERS in business. After accumulating a fair competency for each, the health of Mr. ADAMS became impaired, the partnership was dissolved, and he went to the island of St. Thomas, where he remained until his health was partially restored, when he returned and recommenced the practice of law in Catskill, in which he continued until his death in 1854.
I was intimately acquainted with Mr. ADAMS, and might, did space permit, tell of a thousand acts showing the sociability of his disposition, and the kindness of his heart. He was, many years ago, a member of the State Legislature, and more recently, represented the Green and Columbia District in Congress. Of five children, but two are living—CATHERINE, the wife of EDWIN CROSWELL, and WILLIAM, President of the Suffolk County Bank, at Sag Harbor.
Of the multiplicity of Students in the office of POWERS & ADAMS, I do not know but two yet extant—CALEB DAY and LEWIS BENTON. The latter is, I believe, engaged in the Insurance business in New York, and the former still resides in Catskill, apparently good for a long string of comfortable years to come. I remember as well as though it was but yesterday, when I first knew CALEB DAY. It was a warm sunny afternoon, when I (a boy) was passing the Catskill Bank, in the basement of which Mr. POWERS had his office. Attracted by the measured tones of an excellent voice, I discovered a knot of students and others seated on the grass-plat, in the shade of the building, listening to the reading, by CALEB, of IRVING’S "Legend of Sleep Hollow," then just published. Leaning against the railing, I drank in the whole of the dreamy story, and I am fain to say that during the more than forty years which have passed since that day, no display of Elocution has ever addressed itself so directly to my heart.
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I don’t know whether it is the remembrance of that warm afternoon, or the present effect of "some of the same sort" of weather—but one fact is indisputable: I am getting into an unpleasantly profuse perspiration and must stop just here to cool off.