Catskill Cemetery Papers
Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin
March 28, 1865
Recalling to mind, this evening, one of the old pedagogues of Catskill, and endeavoring to bring back to my recollection enough of his peculiarities, and the incidents of his life, to form material for another Cemetery Sketch, my thoughts imperceptibly wandered off to the Village School, and my proposed subject became lost in the fast-gathering memories of the days when, and the companions with whom, I was urged by alternate flatteries and flagellations, along the thorny paths of knowledge.
It is now more than half a century—(and where have all the years flown to, and what record have they borne with them?)—since I first, reluctantly, entered the Village School House as a pupil. I do not distinctly remember who was then teacher, nor the exact period of my novitiate, but I am certain that it is as long ago as I have stated, for I have a clear recollection that on one dismal, rainy day, we scholars were directed to take books, slates, copies and ink-stands, so that the room might be occupied during the night as quarters for Delaware militia, who were passing through the town, on their way to New York and Staten Island, to defend the Southern frontier of the State from British aggression; and this must have been as early as 1814. I remember, too, that it was the same year when poor JOE SIMPSON went off the wars, from which (fortunately for the man who shot his brother for stealing pork) he never returned. Having thus settled this question of chronology, and consequently established my own antiquity, I will, as the negro minstrels say, "proceed to promulate."
The Village School House stood a few yards South-Easterly from the Court House, a little lower than the road-way, from which it was reached by a trestle-bridge or platform. It was an unpainted, square building, and its windows were placed directly opposite each other, as I happen to know, for I have frequently tested the fact by throwing stones through the glass on one side, and the missile has, invariably, come out the other. I am not sure but that the building still stands in the old place, though it has long since, ceased to be the cradle of incipient erudition, and many years have passed since its walls echoed the rehearsals of b-a-k-e-r, baker, or the whistling rush of the trenchant birch. I have a dim remembrance of what studies I pursued there, if, indeed, I learned anything, but I can well recollect that, not far from the school house, was a fine grove called "the Cedars," where there was a spring of clear, cold water, and where the girls used to go to swing an play at "baby-house." "I bear in my body," to this day, the marks of a cut from a hatchet, which I received while trimming a tree-branch, to which to fasten a swing for one of the girls, and I bear in my memory every feature of the damsel in whose service I was wounded.—(It matters not, however, to your readers, whether she is living or dead, as I do not intend to indulge in a reminiscence of what the Dutchmen call colves leivter.)
Of all that bevy of school girls who "went a-visiting" each others tree stumps, and admired each other’s settings out, in the shape of broken bits of crockery, and praised the beauty and precocity of each other’s rag babies, I do not know the present "local habitants" of more than a half dozen, if, indeed, so many still survive. More than one fell a victim to consumption, and went early to rest in "Our Cemetery; " many have married, and left their native Village, and I do no know but one extant and celibate (Ellen ____) and she, when I saw her, not long since, looked almost as young as when she swung in "the Cedars," and played "high, low, jack and the game" at noon intermissions, in the Village school house.
Besides the Village School, was the Academy, on what is now called Thompson street, contiguous, and quite convenient to PETER BOGARDUS’ apple orchard. This edifice was built one-half of brick, and the other half of wood, and possessed the only bell in town, except that on the old Court House. I remember that the Academy bell was rung, on Sundays, to call the congregation of St. Luke’s together, while that on the Court House performed the same service for those who worshipped at the Presbyterian "meeting-house." They were called, respectively, the big and little bells, and, for a long time, were the only secular or ecclesiastical tocsins of the Village; but these things are all changed now, campanology is reduced to a science, and the modest tintinnabulations of our old favorites are smothered in the clamor of a ton or two of sonorous metal.
The teachers in the Village School were, usually, persons who were pursuing their theological studies with good old Doctor PORTER, and the exercises were supposed to be of a higher grade than those of the Academy, which was, what is now called, a District School. Of the early teachers at the latter, were JOSEPH WYMAN, JOSEPH E. SIMMONS and ISAAC DOUGLAS. Of Wyman I have spoken in a former paper. Simmons was a Welchman, and though a strict disciplinarian, was a most excellent teacher. He is, or was, not long since, living, and I have heard that, until very recently, he was engaged in the tuition of the unfortunates at the County House.
ISAAC DOUGLAS was, in some way, related to the BOGARDUS and COMFORT families, and amiable man, a ripe scholar, and the only teacher whom I really loved. He was an occasional contributor to the columns of this paper (the Recorder), and all his articles evinced a fine literary taste. He died, comparatively young, of consumption.
Of the Village School, I can only call to mind the names of WHITTLESEY, ATWOOD, WHITLEY, (a wiry, dogmatic and pugnacious Scotchman) and NUTTING, who was commonly called Mr. Nothing, or Nobody.
After a time, the Village School came to be looked upon as rather to sectarian, and the Academy as rather too promiscuous in character, and the conservative portion of the inhabitants resolved to establish another institution. The building for this purpose was erected on the street running from William to Court streets, (I forget its name) directly in the rear of ISAAC DUBOIS; brick store, and was generally known as Captain VAN LOAN’S school house. The first teacher here was ROBERT K. MOULTON, a man who had failed while in business with LORA NASH, who afterwards became a prominent and wealthy citizen of New York. Aside from his elegant penmanship, Mr. Moulton possessed very few qualifications as a teacher, and he did not long remain at the head of the school. He was succeeded by one LAGUIRE, a half-crazed Irishman with a red wig. He, too, was a splendid penman, but instead of trying to impart a knowledge of the art to his pupils, he made use of his acquirements in that line in writing love-letters to his female scholars. During his reign, we boys had a "high old time." We had free egress and ingress at all times, through the doors or windows, as best suited our convenience; and the school was, in fact, during the time of his rule, or misrule, a continuous scene of as much hubbub and disorder as that of ICHABOD CRANE, at Sleepy Hollow, on the afternoon when the master was invited to take teas with the fair but fickle KATRINA VAN TASSEL.
LAGUIRE was followed by Mr. MORRELL, who was a good deal "on his shape," and something, too, of a ladies’ man. His great fault was a nocturnal indulgence in stimulants at the grocery store of his crony, ALECK MANN; and having, one night, when slightly inebriated, "buried" JERRY BLAKE in a hat full of eggs, his services as a teacher of the young idea were dispensed with—our parents, doubtless, thinking we could learn such tricks without an outlay of fifty dollars per month to an instructor.
Succeeding MORRELL, came FREDERICK PORTER, whose administration was more satisfactory to both patrons and pupils than that of either of his predecessors. Holding the reins lightly, but just firmly enough over his charge to secure order in the school, and indulging in just enough familiarity with his scholars to elicit their respect and affection, he was, perhaps, the most popular teacher who ever followed the profession in Catskill. He went from our Village to Albany, as a book-keeper, where he soon won the confidence of his employers, and ultimately became one of the celebrated firm of SMITH & PORTER, and was at one time reputed to be, and probably was wealthy. I do no know the nature of the reverses by which he became reduced in circumstances, but he last time I saw him he was in the fruit and shell-fish trade, at the corner of Hudson street and Broadway. He has been dead some years.
Of all my school associates, but few survive. Many of them repose in our pleasant Cemetery; some lie beneath the boundless prairies of the West; some have found grave in foreign lands, and the fate of others will never be known until the sea give up its dead.
Requiescat in pace!