Catskill Cemetery Papers
Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin
Some thirty or forty miles below the city of Albany, is situated the town of Catskill. The voyager upon the Hudson, and the traveler by railroad, may pass and repass the cluster of delapidated buildings which cover "the Point," and not dream that with in a short half mile of them lies a pleasant little village, situated along the two sides of a stream, from which both the town and the blue mountains which overshadow it derive their names. Yet that it really lies there, and experience of nearly forty years, by way of residence, has fully demonstrated to me.—Here, infancy and youth and early manhood were passed, and to this spot, as I pass down the hill of life, I become more and more bound by many pleasant recollections. Memory seems to invest the old mountains with a loftier grandeur, and to make sweeter the music of the streams on my early home.
But I did not intend to describe the beauties with which Nature has surrounded the Village of Catskill. The pen of IRVING, and the pencil of COLE have already given them immortality; for there the poet-painter turned his footsteps, after tiring of Italian landscapes, to live among and gaze upon the varied scenery of mountain, and meadow, and river and woodland, with an eye which never wearied of their beauties until it closed in death.
This Village has probably undergone fewer changes than any other in this country. The same houses which were builded by the early settlers, are still the habitations of their descendants, and, save on the sites of a few of those destroyed by fire, a few years since, I do not known of an entirely new house having been erected in the compact part of the Village for many years. A little paint in the Spring, and an occasional shingle over a leaky spot in the roof, are all the repairs they receive, and, indeed, all which they seen to require. Like the garments of the Israelites, they appear to be exempted for decay. And so with the population; births and immigration have kept pace so steadily with death and removal, as to render the semi-decennial labors of the census-marshal of little importance to the statistics of the State.
In past years this place enjoyed a profitable trade, possessed a brisk and thriving commerce, and promised to grow rapidly into wealth and greatness. It is not my business to determine the causes which prevented its natural business advantages from being improved, or which clogged the wheels of its commercial prosperity, though it has been asserted that the jealous selfishness of individuals who possessed the means to advance the interests of the Village, contributed largely to retard its progress. But whatever the causes, the fact is undeniable that, for many years, the Village has been at a "stand-still," if, indeed, it has not been slightly retrogressive in its course; and although to the man of business this state of affairs may be deplorable, I confess I love to think the old place is still unchanged.
Yet there have been changes and improvements, too. For a few years past, the attention of the inhabitants has been directed to the grave-yard of Catskill. Much has been done by them in the embellishment of their burial place, and they have succeeded in changing the arid sand-hill into a well arranged and sylvan Cemetery. However much the Villagers may have neglected their own habitations, they have not neglected to make pleasant the dwelling of their dead.
And there have been changes—sad changes—in the town, too. A new generation has sprung up in the places of the old inhabitants, and of those whom I knew in my childhood, scarcely one survives, except in the recollection of some such a lover of old memories as myself.
There was honest "COBUS" BOGARDUS, stubbornly honest, and doubtless honestly stubborn—he had "a way of his own," and he would have it. It mattered not much, however, for it was generally the right way. I saw him on his death-bed, on board the vessel which he built, and sailed, and of which he was so proud. Old "HANK" VAN GORDEN, warm-hearted and generous, "a fellow of infinite jest." He seemed old to me then, but the record on his tomb-stone tells that he went hence in early afternoon of life; Captains BRITTON and CAMPBELL, who for many years "went down into the sea in ships." And laid up, at last, in the quiet Village, to tell over the wonders which they had seen and some which, it was suspected, they had not seen. They, both, long ago, rode out the storms of life; "UNCLE NAT."WILSON, too, excellent old man! or rather excellent old boy! for time affected him not as other men, and successive years scored no age marks on his heart. And there was good old Dr. PORTER, who, in his youth, beat the drum to call the revolutionary fathers to the combat, and in after days sounded the call to marshal their children under the banner of the Cross. How well I remember the good old man and his household, and how, one by one, each member of that household passed away before he was called to his great reward.
And there was the Rev. JOSEPH PRENTISS, who labored also in the Master’s vineyard, and sought to win men to righteousness, with an eloquence rarely surpassed. He went away, too, to his recompense, and many an eye, unused to tears, wept at the tidings of that "sudden death" from which he had so often prayed, in the beautiful language of the Litany, the "Good Lord" to "deliver us."
And there was Captain HALE, by whose movements housewives used to set their clock at "high noon"; and Doctor CROSWELL, whom everybody loved, and who, at the time of his death in a good old age, held the same appointment conferred upon him by the great WASHINGTON; and his brother MACKAY, who, more then seventy years ago, established at Catskill a newspaper which is still in existence; and Captain BARENT DU BOIS, who seemed to be a friend to every body but Tories and Indians; and scores of others, with whom I was acquainted, of I may say intimate, (for when a mere boy I was, some how, a favorite with the old men,) whose virtues, and peculiarities, and eccentricities are well worth placing on record, both for the instruction and amusement of those who now possess their places. This task I propose to perform, as leisure may permit, if you, Mr. Editor, shall think a column of your paper not unworthily employed in reviving the memories of those "fore fathers of the hamlet" who sleep in the Catskill Cemetery.