Catskill Cemetery Papers
Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin
February 7th, 1866.
Those who have taken up the Recorder with the expectation of finding, in these sketches, any coherent record of old times in Catskill, or connected history of its ancient inhabitants, have, of course, been disappointed. Snatching, here and there, an occasional hour of leisure, (usually at night) I have had no time to study my subjects or revise my lucubrations, and they are, consequently, thrust upon your readers in all their crude and undigested, if not indigestible imperfections. I sometimes wonder how they have endured, to say nothing of the actual favor with which they have been received by some of my old friends and towns folk.
Looking over the last number, I am tempted to say a word or two of the early military companies of Catskill, though (as I keep no copy of these articles) the sketch may be somewhat iterative, and the reminiscence be "like a thrice-told tale, vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man."
First among the warlike organizations, was the Artillery. This company, if not founded by JARED STOCKING, was commanded by him at my earliest remembrance. Its depot, or gun-house stood adjacent to his dwelling, and not far from my early residence. I do not distinctly recollect the style of uniform worn at that time, except that the hats, or caps, were of the chopping-knife shape, and I used to imagine that they were a part of the offensive armor, the wearer running, head foremost, at this enemy and splitting him.
Of the rank and file, I can now only recall to mind JERRY DOBBS, a blacksmith, and that he was once forcibly ejected from his house by one GATES, for non-payment of rent, and that there was a prodigious hubbub raised about it in Catskill, DOBBS challenging GATES to mortal combat with broad-swords. Another—JOE SIMPSON—also a blacksmith. He enlisted in the regular army near the close of the War of 1812, and the last I saw of him be was bestowing a hearty farewell kiss on BETTY DOUGHERTY. He never returned, and that was probably lucky for WM. WYNKOOP, who shot JOE’S brother for stealing pork.
After the war, the Company languished, and at last "gin out." It was revived by APOLLOS COOKE, a few years later, and, through his exertions, soon became a rather large crowd of good looking "sojers." A fencing-master, named CHEESEBRO, was engaged to teach his art—a military spirit was infused into the people—even youngsters essayed to be swordsmen, and every board-fence and dead-wall was marked by diagrams of "Cut one, two, three, four, five and six—in the rear."
I believe I have not, in any of my former articles, spoken more than casually of APOLLOS COOKE, and it is not fitting that I should pass without due and respectful notice one so prominent in the history of Catskill—one who was so well and favorably known among its citizens—and one whose sad and sudden death was so deeply deplored.
My earliest recollections of him are as one of the firm of T. B. & A. COOKE, doing business in the building on Main street, just North of Liberty street, and my first remembrance of that store is of seeing it brilliantly illuminated, with movable lights, at the celebration of the treaty of peace with Great Britain, about February, 1815. This business was multifarious—in dry goods, groceries, hardware, drugs, and every other commodity which contributes to make up the promiscuous assortment of a country store. They had, besides, store-houses on the Creek, bought country produce, and were also largely engaged in the forwarding trade. Many years ago, they dissolved their mercantile copartnership, and built the brick block just above the Tanners’ Bank, APOLLOS occupying the Northern half of the building, as a general store, and THOMAS B. going in the hardware business, exclusively, in association with JOSHUA ATWATER Sr. and BENJAMIN W. DWIGHT.
I never knew a more whole-souled, kind hearted or honorable man that APPOLOS COOKE, and, even at this hour, I seem to hear again the jocund tones of his hearty laugh, which was often accompanied by a vigorous slap on the shoulder, or a "dig in the ribs," and which was, sometimes, a little uncomfortable.
Mr. COOKE was a warm politician of the Democratic stripe. He was, with DORRANCE KIRTLAND, a delegate to the State Convention of 1828, which nominated MARTIN VAN BUREN for Governor, and endorsed ANDREW JACKSON for President. His name was appended to an address to the Electors, which in my opinion is so applicable to National affairs, as they have existed for a few years past, that I cannot forbear to quote from it briefly. Speaking of the formation of the Constitution, and its guaranties of the States, the address says:
The States were left, as distinct sovereignties, not merely for the purpose of securing a better administration of our domestic concerns, but as an additional precaution against the growth of an absolute government. These Federal sentinels were stationed as so many intermediate guards to observe the march of usurpation, and to give timely notice of alarm. Should they ever be corrupted or betrayed, our Federal Constitution will be swept into the attractive vortex of national consolidation; the true friends of the Union may then abandon all hopes of perpetuating a popular government, for it will rapidly degenerate and be lost amidst the splendors of an absolute monarchy.
Again, speaking of the faithlessness of the public functionaries of that day, it reads thus:
Whilst the public interest has suffered at a thousand points through the culpable remissness of our public agents,--those agents, from the highest to the lowest in executive branch, have found time to traverse the whole country, and vitiate the public taste and outrage the public feeling by table harangues and partizan discourses in support of their own personal interests. Every appointment, if not every act of the government, has had its bearing upon the next election stamped upon it in letters so plain as to be obvious to the dullest capacity. To this end also, has the patronage of the government, and particularly that portion of it which is connected with our foreign relations, been prostituted to an extent that the defies exaggeration.
And, once more, in treating of the Supreme Court, is says:
Little did our ancestors suppose, when, with a wise precaution, they placed this august tribunal far above the reach of executive influence, and invested it, not merely with the power of administering justice among men, but of deciding on the constitutions of states and adjusting conflicts between sovereignty and sovereignty—little did they imagine, that the time could ever arrive, when our Judges would be engaged in our political conflicts, with all the unregulated zeal of partisans—when the supreme court of this union of sovereignties would become the pliant and supple instrument of an unpopular and suspected administration.
And so, in this democratic strain the address of 1828 warned the people against executive, legislative and judicial corruption, in language which might appropriately have been written thirty-five years later.
This is the first time I have introduced any political matter into these sketches, and I shall not do so hereafter, but, as the name of APOLLOS COOKE is signed to this address, I could not refrain from adding this evidence of his sound political faith to the record of his personal worth and private virtues.
Mr. COOKE died, I think in 1832. The cholera had, that year, made its first appearance in this country, and with a commendable solicitude for the health of his family, he had removed them to the region of purer air, among the mountains, and away, as he hoped, from the track of the pestilence. One morning, as he was about to mount his favorite young horse, for a ride, he was seen to fall, and was dead before those who hastened to his assistance reached the spot.
His grave is in "Our Cemetery," and the inscription on the head-stone tells us that he died in the prime of manhood, and in the midst of his usefulness. Even now his loss is mourned, not only by affectionate relatives, but by more friends than it is common for a single individual to number.
But What of the Artillery?
A first successor to APOLLOS COOKE was SAMUEL A. BAKER. Capt. BAKER, when I first knew him, kept a grocery and provision store of the North-east corner of Main and Thompson streets. He married a daughter of SOLOMON CHANDLER, of whom I have heretofore written. Afterwards he went into the lumber trade, and for some years sailed a sloop between Catskill, New York and sometimes Eastern ports, and succeeded in accumulation a snug property, but, subsequently, an unfortunate connection in business resulted in his, almost, utter financial ruin. I knew him in prosperity and adversity, and never discovered any change in his happy disposition and deportment. Open-hearted and open-handed when fortune smiled, he met reverses with cheerful resignation, and engaged in the most humble, if honest, occupations with the same indomitable will with which he pursued higher and more dignified aims. In truth, I have never known a man who secured to enjoy more fully the fruition of that prayer which asks for "patience under any afflictions which Heaven may see fit to lay on us, and minds always contented with our present condition." But his death occurred so recently that it is unnecessary to speak at much length of one whose memory cannot have faded from the hearts of most of your readers.
RODMAN G. DAY came after (though perhaps not as immediate successor to) SAMUEL A. BAKER as Captain of the Artillery, and, under his management, the Company revived and flourished. He was, I think, in command at the time LAFAYETTE "made a flying visit" to Catskill, and I recollect that on that occasion he deployed solid column across the street to intercept the too hasty return of the cavalcade to "the Point." I recollect, too, how very much we were all disappointed then, and most especially BETTY WYMAN, who so much desired, and who was so emphatically, promised that she should "see LAFAYETTE."
Afterwards, my old "friend and pitcher," RALPH OLMSTEAD, ran the military machine, until it "resolved itself," at last, into a sort of suburban organization, generally commanded by some OVERBAUGH or other, with ranks filled chiefly from Cauterskill, Kiskatom and "the Groedt Embaught." [At my last visit to Catskill, on the fourth of July, I saw one of the old members under Captain COOKE, ---ANTHONY THOMAS. He looked hale and hearty as of yore, and as though he could still wield the old cheese-knife as well as he formerly did, in many a tough combat with CHEESEBRO, the fencing-master.]
The Light Infantry, or "Union Volunteers," was another old military company, but I have no time, to-night, to speak of it. I propose, hereafter, to give succinct sketch of it, from its early commander, JOHN HAIGHT, down to MATTHEW DICE VAN LOAN.
JOHN C. JOHNSTON formed a Rifle Company, at about the time the Artillery was resuscitated by Capt. COOKE, but I must also defer any notice of it until another paper.
There was another Rifle Company which used to train in Catskill, although I believe it was raised, principally, in Cairo, and it was commanded by IRA T. DAY. Mr. DAY was a tanner, and very prominent citizen of Cairo. He was, more than once, Supervisor of the that town, and was a very competent and industrious member of the Board. I was very intimately acquainted with him, yet I remember him as being of an extremely active (rather nervous) temperament, and as having a habit of biting off the heads of his words, in his rapid enunciation. But, notwithstanding their peculiarity of speech, IRA T. DAY was a most excellent man, and his death left a void, wide and deep, in the community in which he resided, and where he was much respected during the many years of his life.
I hope to be able to return to our military heroes in a future number—until when, I am the humble servant of yourself and you readers.