Catskill Cemetery Papers
Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin
January 19, 1866
An interval of half a year lies between the date of my last sketch, and to-day. Then, "Our Cemetery" lay in the light of a Summer’s sun, and then daily visits were made, by surviving friends, to the resting-places of "the loved and lost." Now, the sharp winds of Winter sweep past lofty monuments and lowly tomb-stones, and the light snows lie all unbroken, save where the wheel-marks of the hearse point the track to some new-made grave.
But, to those who sleep in that enclosure, Summer and Winter, Spring-time and Autumn are one. They heed neither sunlight nor clouds, cold nor heat, the springing of the flower, nor the failing of the leaf—"they rest form their labors."
And perhaps it would be wisdom that I should leave them to rest,
"Nor farther seek their merits to disclose,
or draw their frailties from that dread abode
where they alike in trembling hop repose
--The bosom of their father and their God,"
yet somehow, I cannot tell why, I feel, at times, driven by some irresistible influence to recall their lives and actions to memory, and to commit them to paper, in my poor imperfect way, notwithstanding the consciousness that my sketches must surely be of very slight interest, if not tedious, to your readers.
* * * * * *
There is now, within the bounds of your Village, a populous settlement called West Catskill, but which, in olden time, went by the comprehensive name of "Across the Creek." From the "Hop-o’-nose" nearly to the confluence of the Catskill and Cauterskill, there is a level intervale or swade of land, lying between the hill-side and the Creek, which, in my younger days, was rather sparsely settled. The old DUBOIS house; another a ancient near it, the distinctive name of which I forget, but which was for a time occupied by one CHAUNCEY GOODRICH; the present residence of the HOPKINS family; a store-house, with a few scattering wooden tenements, were about all the buildings which I can clearly remember. The population was principally made up of the families of ROBERT J. CALDER, the cooper; JUDGE BENTON, a retired physician; PETER S. DUBOIS, a farmer and large land-holder; EZRA H. SHEPARD, the whistling wagon maker; MR. ROWE, (the father of JONATHAN and PETER) who kept the tavern, and JAMES VAN VLAKENBURGH, the blacksmith, who was commonly called ‘COBUS FOLLECK, for brevity.
To this place, forty or fifty years ago, there came SAMUEL and NATHANIEL WILSON. The former is famous, in the chronicles of the last war with England, as originating the national nick-name of "Uncle SAM," which happened something after this wise: The WILSON brothers, who were familiarly known as Uncle SAM, Uncle NAT, Uncle EBEN, &c., had a contract for supplying in American army with beef, and, of course, all the barrels were branded U. S., to designate them as government property. An inquisitive fellow coming along, one day, asked the meaning of the letters, which, to him, were entirely cabalistic. The man who wielded the brand, being something of a wag, replied that they were the initials of the senior contractor, Uncle SAM—and so, Brother JONATHAN was ever after known as Uncle SAM.
But to return, the brothers SAMUEL and NATHANIEL came to Catskill and settled on the West side of the Creek, both, I believe, occupying one domicile, since known as the HAXTON house. They commenced the slaughtering and packing business, and, one of them at least, carried on the manufacture of brick, prosecuting both trades on an extensive scale, and employing a large number of hands, many of whom (the GLEASONS, GIBSONS, &c) accompanied them in their immigration to Catskill. For some time their operations in beef packing were confined to the old slaughter-house standing in the bend of the Creek, near the Hop-o’-nose, but they afterwards erected extensive buildings and yards at "the Point" and enlarged their business until few establishments of the kind were more widely and favorably known. Uncle SAM did not stay in Catskill many years, but returned to Troy. I believe he had but two sons, BENJAMIN M. and ALBERT. The former I afterwards renewed my acquaintance with in Troy, while I was a resident of that city, of ALBERT I have no distinct remembrance, except that he was once most cruelly maltreated at school, by a teacher named NUTTING, who, in his rage, pulled the hair from the boy’s head, and otherwise mutilated him, and I well remember that there was a strong expression of indignation by the whole community at this act of brutality.
[Nutting was afterwards, and perhaps appropriately, selected as the principal of a female seminary. Had he lived in these days, and retained his propensity of capillary extraction, he might have had fine times among the waterfalls.]
The last time I saw the two brothers, SAMUEL and NATHANIEL WILSON together, was in the Summer of 1846, at the house of the elder, in Troy, where NATHANIEL was on a visit. Time had been pecking at them for about four-score years, but, aside from a weakening of the knees, which Uncle NAT assured us was "a family complaint," the old mower had made but little impression upon either of them. They cracked their jokes, and enjoyed their reminiscences of old times with all the zest of boyhood, and their hearty laughter rang out until Mount Ida sent its echoes to join in the hilarity.
Uncle NAT remained in Catskill, and was long known and is still remembered as one of the most worthy citizens of the Village. Time will not permit me, to-day, to render a fitting tribute to one who was so universally esteemed, and who so richly deserved the affection of his townsmen. His tomb-stone records that he died August 19, 1854, aged 86 years. Doubtless the record is true, yet it is difficult for me to realize that he was so old, for certain it is that the years which had passed over his head never touched the kindly impulses of his heart.
Not a long time before his death, I saw him in Catskill, on a Sunday. He had started for church alone, but, when near the Bank corner, he limbs failed him, and he was obliged to cling to the railings for support. I lent him my shoulder to sustain him, and accompanied him to the porch of the Baptist Church, where we chatted until his son FRANCIS came and assisted him to a seat inside the building. I never saw him again—before my next visit to the Village, he had gone to take his seat in a "temple not made with hands."
Most, if not all, his sons were still living. The eldest, FRANCIS N., is too well known among you to require a lengthy notice at my hands. For many years he was engaged in business with his father, and subsequently he became connected with the forwarding house of COOKES, DONNELLY & Co., and also as one of the extensive hardware firm first established by Messrs. ATWATER, COOKE & DWIGHT. He was, also, for some time, President of the Catskill Bank, and was, in various ways, identified with the business and social interests of the Village, and, like his father, he has always enjoyed the confidence, respect and esteem of all who knew him.
WILLIAM M. (or MERRILL) was about my age, and, for some years we were quite intimate. He removed to New York a number of years ago, and was, I believe, associated with an uncle in the packing and inspection business, and I learn that the world has "went well with him." Surely, none envy him a success which has been the result of industry and integrity.
CHARLES is still in business in Catskill, pursuing the same trade, and, "following, generally, in the footsteps of his predecessors."
HENRY removed, long since, to the Western country, and I have not heard from him for years.
In my next sketch I propose to notice some others of those who, forty or fifty years ago, lived "Across the Creek."