Catskill Cemetery Papers
Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin
January 26th, 1866.
Among those who accompanied the WILSONS to Catskill, or who came at about the same time with them, were JONAS W. GLEASON and JOHN EDSALL. These two were, at different times, if not in regular alternation, "boss butchers" at the Catskill slaughter-house - GLEASON was quite a character in his way. He had lungs like a smith’s bellows, and during the busy operations of the establishment his voice could be heard high above the bellowing of the doomed cattle, or the resounding blows of axe and cleaver. JONAS was an ambitious man. I am not sure that he was vain, but I don’t think that he ever distrusted his own capacity to fill any position, from a bladder boy up to President of the United States. He was a little proud, too, of his oratorical powers, and managed to give them vent upon all appropriate (and sometimes inappropriate) occasions. I must admit that he sometimes lacked a little in eloquence, but he made up in energy; manner supplied the dearth of matter; want of grammar was abundantly compensated by gesticulation, and if, at any time he hesitated for proper phrases, he filled up the hiatus with his favorite quotation:
"As high as huge Olympus—come, young Octavio, come."
The first time I ever heard JONAS in the role of an orator, was at a celebration of the Anniversary of American Independence "across the Creek." For want of a cannon, the boys charges the "mouse-hole" of an anvil, and from the rising of the Sun to the going down of the same, the Village was jarred by the echoes of this improvised artillery. But, above the roar of the anvil, rose the stentorian tones of JONAS, in an address in which was compressed more fervid patriotism, if not elegant diction, than are found, now-a-days, in Congressional debates. The heat of the day, or the hunger and thirst of the crowd, obliged JONAS to curtail his harangue, with a promise to conclude it, on the following day, at the same place; but, from some unexplained cause, he failed to "come to time." It might have been for lack of an appreciative audience, for when I came to the spot there was no one to be seen, except two or three ragged ragamuffins seeking sixpences and segar-stumps among the debris of the preceding day’s debauchery.
But his favorite occasion was at the "blow outs" or annual festivals at the closing up of the packing season. These festivals were sometimes held at the tavern of JACOB M. HALLENBECK, at "the Point," but, usually, the dinner was spread on "the bed" or "knocking-down and dragging-off" platform at the slaughter-house. It is true that, at these times, the place was thoroughly washed and white-washed, but, to me, there was always a nasal reminder of the recent, "base uses" of this banquet hall, not especially provocative of keen appetite.
The dinner, two of the leading dishes of which were roast dog and blood pudding, (the balance, however, being of the choicest esculents, and beverages,) was generally preceded by a procession of men in their work-day habiliments and implements, headed by JONAS a cheval, wearing a huge pair of bullock’s livers as epaulettes, flanked by BEN BROCKWAY and a broad-axe. I will not attempt to describe these processions or entertainments, as most of your grown-up readers, have, doubtless, witnessed one or more of them, and, indeed, I only now advert to them as occasions improved by JONAS for the exercise of his oratorical powers.
JONAS also took advantage of his position as Foreman of the Hook and Ladder Company, to address the members, every month, from the topmost round of a ladder.
He also delighted in acting as an auctioneer, a vocation to which he was, by the "gift of gab," peculiarly adapted. I once had a little business with him in that line, and truth compels me to say that he had a much happier knack in selling things than he had in rendering an account of sales.
For some years he kept a butcher’s stall, and the firm of J. W. GLEASON & SON (his son GEORGE being the partner) transacted a large business, and was supposed to be moderately wealthy. I do not now know the cause, but, after a while, adversity came on, and they failed. Afterwards, JONAS took the tavern near the HANS VASSEN KILL, and for a time was again prosperous, having a good run of Village customers, attracted thither by excellent Yankee Flip, which he was famous for concocting, and the flavor of which is not even yet entirely gone from memory. Subsequently GLEASON was appointed Village, or police, constable, and was, I believe, active and faithful in the discharge of the duties of the office. His last vocation was that of car-man, and he followed it until his working days were over. Although he lived to a good old age, yet he fell quite short of his calculations of longevity, for I have often heard him say that, as his father had lived to an almost antediluvian age, and that his mother then extant, and above ninety years old, he "unless," as he said, "a house should fall on him." His death was not caused by any such ponderous agency as a falling house, but by an apparently trivial pustule on the lip, which resulted in cancer, and slowly, but surely, ate away his life.
There are many anecdotes connected with the history of JONAS W. GLEASON, which I would be glad to repeat, did time permit, or were I not quite certain that they will readily suggest themselves to the minds of your readers. Take him, all in all, he was a good citizen, and though he in his element in all the branches of knocking-down, skinning and cutting up, yet he had a kind heart, and I do not remember any one to whom the poor, the unfortunate and the wretched could apply, in their utmost need, with better hopes of relief, than to this man, whose trade was blood.
His oldest son, GEORGE, died long before his father. CHARLES, the second son, survived his brother some years, and will be remembered as the subject of an accident in 1834. There had been a warm and spirited election for Trustees that year, (the first time when party politics were mixed with our Village affairs) and the Whigs were successful. To celebrate their triumph, the big gun was brought out, and CHARLEY, with others, undertook to fire a salute. At the third or fourth firing a premature discharge took place, tearing the arm of young GLEASON from the shoulder, and otherwise cruelly mutilating him. I hope that I am not hard-hearted, nor vindictive, yet I fear that I was not so deeply grieved at the time as I ought to have been, nor as I probably should have been had I not been one of the candidates over whose defeat the rejoicings were held. Yet I think I am sorry, now, that I was nor more sorry then. CHARLES recovered from the accident, but is since dead.There were two other brothers, NELSON and JONAS, but I do not know what became of them.
The space in your paper to which I have usually limited these sketches, will not permit me to advert, very briefly, to JOHN EDSALL.
He was born in New Jersey, and, at an early age, apprenticed to one FRINK, a well-known butcher of New York. Before the expiration of his indentures, he was induced, with other boys, to join the "Miranda Expedition," a scheme similar to, if not identical with that of AARON BURR, in the early part of the present century—a sort of raid into Mexican and South American territory. History tells of the failure of that crazy enterprise. History tells of the failure of that crazy enterprise, and poor EDSALL and his companions were caught and incarcerated in a loathsome dungeon at Carthagena, New Grenda. There they laid and suffered horribly for months, if not for years; but, at last, a part of them succeeded in effecting their escape, by digging a subterraneous passage, below the foundations of the prisons. After enduring terrible hardships and privations, EDSALL shipped on board a foreign vessel as a sailor. He was, afterwards, shipwrecked in the Cattegat, a sort of estuary of the German Ocean. Himself and only a single shipmate clung to a slight raft for a long time, and until they were rescued, nearly frozen and exhausted—the sole survivors of the whole ship’s company.
He again entered the merchant service, in which he continued until the breaking out of the War of 1812, when he was impressed into the British service, and was, more than once, an unwilling participant in naval engagements with American vessels. I do not recollect exactly how he got clear from English servitude, but think he "took French leave" while his vessel was in port, patching up the damages which she had received from a Yankee privateer. EDSALL afterwards entered the American navy, under the assumed name of JOHN BROWN, (fearing that, should be fortunes of war again throw him into the British hands, he might meet the fate of a deserter) and he held the post of Master-at-arms on board Com. McDONOUGH’S flag-ship, at the battle of Lake Champlain.
At the close of the war, he resumed his trade of butcher, and was, for a long time, in the employment of SAMUEL and NATHANIEL WILSON, with whom, I believe, he came to Catskill, where his eventful life came to a peaceful close. I have listened, for hours, to his stories of hardships, wrecks and imprisonments, and regret that I have not the leisure to rehearse them to your readers. But I cannot now do so, (though I may, perhaps, hereafter revert to this subject,) and must close this very desultory sketch by stating that he always enjoyed the esteem and confidence of all who knew him, and that he will long be remembered in Catskill as one of the noblest of the Creator’s works—a honest man.