Catskill Cemetery Papers
Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin
Wednesday Ev’g., February 21, 1866.
I notice that in your last paper you apologize to your readers for the absence of a "Sketch," on the ground that none was received. Allow me to add another, and quite as cogent, reason—none was written. Busily engaged in closing up the affairs pertaining to my present situation, and uncertain, than as now, as to my future course or condition, I had neither time or much of inclination to devote to reminiscences of the past.
And I am not sure but that it is time to bring these idle sketches to a close, at once and for all. It is true that my subjects are not yet exhausted—indeed, they seem to accumulate as I progress, but I somehow feel as though they deserve a notice from worthier pens than mine, and I have earnestly hoped that others would, long since, have taken the pleasant task from my hands. But the hope seems vain; the drowsy atmosphere of your ancient burgh appears to have engendered as deep a lethargy, in regard to past events and people, as whilom, wrapped poor RIP VAN WINKLE in long forgetfulness in one of the shaded ravines of your overlooking mountains.
And so, I suppose, I must continue, a little longer, to revisit the gallery of memory, and essay to brush the dust from the pictures which hang upon its walls.
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I have been trying to bring to mind the place where I first saw the sign "JACOB VAN ORDEN, Attorney and Counsellor at Law." I believe it was a small office on the lot adjoining that upon which the drug store of BENJAMN WEY now stands, though it might have been elsewhere, for, in those days, all sorts of buildings were locomotive—a person desiring to "change his base" usually mounting his house on rollers, and traveling off like a snail with his shell.
The lot referred to was, fifty years ago, inclosed by a board fence, weather-beaten and moss-covered, extending from the BUNNELL house to the store of HALL & BLAKESLEE, and standing a little back from the street was the stone dwelling house of Dr. JAMES THOMPSON. I think the first buildings erected here were a frame store at the corner of the alley, occupied by LEMUEL HALL and LUTHER SPENCER, and a short distance North, a brick house built by JOHN F. DARROW, with two stores in front, one occupied by himself as a watch and jewelry shop, and the other by RACHEL BELLAMY, as a millinery. Afterwards, a dry goods store was erected by, or for, the QUAKER, SAMUEL SMITH. The only other buildings which I recollect were the book store and bindery of Deacon ELLIOTT, and VAN ORDEN’S office, both, I believe, removed from other sites.---forty years ago, a fire broke out, at night, in the store of SAMMY SMITH, and, as the only engine in the Village had an extensive rat-hole in it, the conflagration had it all its own way, and swept the block.
Afterwards, the row now known as the "Center Brick Block," was put up and occupied by CROSWELL& BRACE; HAIGHT & VAN VOORHIS; PORTER, COIT & TAPPAN; ADAMS & ELLIOTT, and others, and it still stands, pretty much in its original shape. This, and the Thompson Block, built some eight or ten years earlier, by TOMMY THOMPSON, EZRA HAWLEY, ISAAC HARDENBURGH, &c., were looked upon as magnificent, structures, and miracle of architecture—in fact, I once tho’t they were the tallest buildings in the world.
On the whole, the fire alluded to, though it was considered very disastrous at the time, was a real benefit to the place; nor do I think it was very deeply regretted by SAMMY SMITH, who was the greatest sufferer pecuniarily, for he was a good citizen, and had the interests of the Village strongly at heart. He was, as I have said, a Quaker, and had the smooth and plausible manner peculiar to the sect, and was, consequently, quite successful in trade. He at one time held the office of Trustee of the Village, and was extremely active in enforcing the municipal by-laws, though his zeal, on one occasion, outran his discretion, and resulted in a mortifying defeat. There was then, and I presume is now, a Village ordinance prohibiting the sale of fire-works to any minor or intoxicated person, and, as "a burnt child dreads fires," SAMMY was especially "down upon" all offenders in this particular. SAMUEL DUBIOS kept fire-works, and SMITH determined to punish him to the extent of the law, but found it difficult to fasten the charge of selling to either of the prohibited classes; and, so, he sent a young lad to buy powder-crackers. The boy obtained them, and SMITH prosecuted DUBOIS, bringing into Court his witness of non-age. But, alas, SAM turned the tables upon him by proving that SMITH furnished the money for the explosives, and was, therefore, the real purchaser; and, as the Quaker could not prove himself a minor, and didn’t like to admit that he was an intoxicated person, he was non-suited, with costs. That hurt SAMMY SMITH’S feelings.
But I have wandered away from the little tin sign of "JACOB VAN ORDEN, Attorney & Counsellor at Law." I am not sure but that it was J. & S., instead of JACOB, solus, for I remember that his brother SAMUEL VAN ORDEN died long ago, and I only remember him as a pleasant, quiet and amiable man, and that he was beloved and respected as widely as he was known.
Almost everybody in Catskill, of middle age, remembers JACOB VAN ORDEN. He was one of the prominent lawyers of the town, and, especially, the legal adviser of all the Dutch farmers in all the region round about. I became acquainted with him when I was a boy in the County Clerk’s office, where I had frequent business intercourse with him, and I have never known any one who, to a rather rough manner, joined a more generous spirit or a kinder heart. No appeal of the poor and the distressed ever fell unheeded on his ear; no sick-bed lacked his careful attendance, and even the sad obsequies of the dead were deemed incomplete without his presence.—But, as I have said, he had a rough manner, which I have always thought was, in a great measure, assumed to hide the workings of his noble nature. Though he would, sometimes, swear, (pretty well in English, and unsurpassed in Low Dutch) yet his oaths, like UNCLE TOBY’S, were probably never recorded, and it was generally admitted that one of his maledictions was equal to another man’s blessing; being, almost invariably, followed by some benevolent act and timely favor. To illustrate his peculiar manner: He had a negro boy—before slavery was abolished in this State—named TITE, (TITUS unabridged) and he fell sick—very sick—indeed, it was about which the t’other with the darkey, who believed and averred that he would die. His master, who attended him night and day, finding all his efforts fruitless to cheer and encouraged his dusky patient, at last broke out, while the tears wet his cheeks, after this fashion: "Now, you d___nigger, TITE, shut up you black head—if you die I’ll whip you within and inch of your life!" the threat was medicinal, and TITE recovered.
The chirography of Mr. VAN ORDEN was very peculiar, although I think his signature was good for almost any amount. In drawing declarations, taking notes of evidence, &c., he would commence well up on the left-hand corner of his paper, but there seemed to be an increasing deflective tendency of the line which brought it out half way down the other side of the sheet—and so on in a regular succession of hypotenuses.
I remember that he was, once, considerably vexed at an exposition of his "hand o’write" by JOHN VAN VLECK. They were trying a cause, before ‘Squire BELLAMY, between MOSES WASHBURN and his apprentice, JOHN CONINE, who sought to be released from his indentures, because of a failure on the part of his master to provide the stipulated means of education. Mr. VAN ORDEN attempted to prove that the boy had been learned to write well but the testimony all went to show that he was a miserable penman, when VAN VLECK mischievously drew away Mr. VAN ORDEN’S minutes, and asked the witness if JOHN could write as well as that? The witness thought he could—and a little better.
I believe the boy was released from his service, and Justice deciding that the specimen of penmanship exhibited was not quite up to the requirements of the indenture. But lawyers are, proverbially, poor writers.
Mr. VAN ORDEN, after the death of his brother, formed a law partnership with ROBERT DORLON, of whom I have heretofore written, and, I believe, the connection was only dissolved by the death of the later.
The sons of JACOB VAN ORDEN were WILLIAM H., JACOB, LUCAS AND PHILIP V. WILLIAM studied law, and practiced for some time in Catskill, and also held some town and Village offices. He married a daughter of the late CALEB HOPKINS, and was, at one time, connected in business with his brothers-in-law in New York. [And here permit me to publicly express my sense of obligation to one of the brothers of HOPKINS for a recent timely favor, gracefully bestowed and most thankfully accepted.] JACOB was not, I think, brought up to any profession. He was a kind-hearted, genial fellow, "a chip off the old block," and had fund of anecdotes of the old times of Catskill. He was, for two terms Clerk of the County of Greene. He has been dead some time. LUCAS went to Wisconsin some twenty year ago, and died there. PHILIP is still among you, but as everybody knows and liked him, it will be unnecessary for me to say anything about him just now.
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And now, owing to the uncertainty of my future movements or position, it is not improbable that there may be a discontinuance of these articles, whether brief, protracted or final, events, undeveloped, must determine. Past the prime of life, depressed in spirit as well as means, I go out to seek some new employment. "The world is all before me, where to choose, and " (may I hope it?) "Providence my guide." Whether I shall resume these sketches at an early day, at a remote period, or never, I beseech my readers to believe that I have never penned a line intended to ruffle the most acute sensibility; and to pardon what ever may have been, inadvertently, written amiss. And so, with feelings of "peace, charity and good will toward all," I again bid you Good Night!