Catskill Cemetery Papers
Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin
August 20, 1863
Sauntering through the Cemetery, and scanning the inscriptions upon the head-stones, I find, among the names which most frequently occur, that the DUBOIS. While this frequency indicates a numerous race of that name in this vicinity, I presume there are few of the present generation who bear it, who are congnizant of the slight chance by which their patronymic was perpetuated, or the imminent danger which at one time threatened to extinguish the American branch of this now numerous and respectable family. As the name denotes, this family is of French origin—Du Bois, in that language, signifying "of the wood," or forest.
About the year 1650, a little band of persecuted Huguenots left their land, emigrated to this country, and settled at a place called Wyltwick, near Kingston, and also at New Paltz. Among the latter was a young man named Dubois, and near New Paltz the incident to which I alluded occurred (probably about 1670-5,) when the entire extinction of the Dubois family was providentially prevented. A party, consisting of Mr. Dubois, his wife and child, and others, were returning, on Winter evening, from a visit to Rhinebeck, in a sleigh, and while crossing the Hudson, and near their home, the ice gave way, plunging the whole party into the River. Mrs. Dubois, with great presence of mind, threw her infant upon a cake of ice, from which he was rescued, while all the others occupants of the sleigh were drowned; and but for this escape the name would have been lost. [Does not my old friend, BENJAMIN P., shudder when he thinks how very near he came to being nobody?]
This rescued waif I suppose to have been Domine GUALTHERIUS DUBOIS, who married HELENA VAN BALEN, on New Year’s day, A. D. 1700, and from whom sprang the thousands of the name who exist at this day, and the hundreds with whom I have been personally acquainted. But it is not my purpose to trace genealogies.
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The oldest members of the Dubois family of whom I have any personal recollection, were JOHN, BARENT, PETER and JOEL. John occupied the farm lying on the West side of the Catskill, near its confluence with the Hudson; a pleasant location, commanding a fine view of the River, embracing Bompies Hook and the Sand Plauchy on the North, and the "Vly" on the East and South—the latter suggestive, doubtless, to the early settler, in its wide expanse of swamp, of the fens of Old Holland—or, in the nightly music of its bull-frog orchestra, of the mixed dialect of his Franco-Dutch progenitors. To the West of the homestead, the ground gradually rises, until it reaches the elevated level which crowns "The Hoponose." [And here, permit me to say that I have never yet learned the true significance or origin of this name. Mrs. ANN S. STEPHENS, the novelist, does, I believe, in some of her words, attempt to fish up its derivation, but I confess I could never make head or tail of her version of the matter, any more than I could of her interminable tale of "Mary Derwent." In my boyhood there was a tradition that a drunken Indian agreed to hop from the hill into the Creek, for a pint of whisky, and that, in the performance of the feat, he fell on his nose, and broke it—hence "hop on nose." My theory, (and it is, perhaps, the most improbable of all) is that one of the earlier pedagogues of the region, instructing his pupils in trigonometry, made use of this rocky point as a convenient illustration of a triangle, describing a vertical line from the top of the hill to the water as the perpendicular, the level of the Creek as the base, and the slope of the promontory as the hypothenoes—subsequently contracted to Hoponose. I don’t care much, however, whether your readers believe in my theory, or not, for I can’t say I have much faith in it myself.]
The sons of JOHN DUBOIS were as follows: JOHN D., who was called "Young John" long after his head was as bald as a lap-stone. He was a kind-hearted, quiet, genial soul, and had no little faults that I knew, except, perhaps, a slight partiality for schnapps and dominoes. He lived to a good old age, and left to his children the inheritance of an honest name. ISAAC was of a more stirring disposition, and was, at different times, a farmer, a merchant, a skipper and a militia colonel. He served in the War of 1812, and was esteemed as a brave and efficient officer. I can bear witness to the emphatic manner in which he gave the word of command to his regiment, albeit the emphasis was usually of that sort which Corporal TRIM said was so prevalent in "our army in Flanders."
Next, was JAMES, whose unhappy history is so well known to most of your readers to excuse me from making more than a very brief allusion to it. Early in life he went to New York, as clerk or accountant in a well established mercantile house, and there was, perhaps, no young man who ever left our town with more flattering prospects than James Dubois. No tidings of him ever reached home which were not satisfactory to his parents and friends, and honorable to himself, and a bright future was anticipated for him, when news arrived that the had become suddenly deranged. I never knew the cause—it was said by some that intense application to business had affected his brain—by others that an immerited reproof from one of his employers had so rudely shaken his extremely sensitive temperament as to unsettle his mind. He was brought back to the old homestead, and, it is said that, for many years, he never spoke a word! Yet day after day, at a certain hour he would make the circuit of his father’s farm. In the pleasant Spring-time, in the burning Summer, in the mellow Autumn, and in the bitter-cold and snows of Winter, he would traverse that same route, making a round of miles, and return to his chamber, where he would remain in a moody silence for the next twenty-four hours, then to resume his solitary walk over the well beaten track, which came to be known as "crazy Jim’s path." Many years subsequently, he suddenly resumed the exercise of speech, and, as though to compensate for his long silence, he became really garrulous. He abandoned his daily walk, and frequently visited the Village, but his reason never returned.
IRA DUBOIS is still living, and, of course, it is unnecessary for me to write the history of one who has figured in so many capacities that he cannot be unknown to any adult inhabitant of Catskill. It is sufficient to say that as a merchant, as the founder (in connection with Mr. H. H. VAN DYCK) of a newspaper, of which the Examiner is a continuation, as a Justice of the Peace, as Grand High Priest of Masonry, as Assembly Librarian, as Custom-house official, and, at last, as clerk or secretary to the Board of Metropolitan Police Commissioners, as well as in all the relations of private life, he has creditably acquitted himself.
JOEL, the youngest son, I believe, is also still living, and I presume, occupies the old homestead at "the Point." Being nearer to my age than the others, I was more intimate with him than them, and I can only say that the remembrance of our youthful associations is very pleasant.
But I find I am exceeding my limits, and must defer to another number a sketch of the other branches of the Dubois family.