Harmony Lodge Papers
January 15, 1863
Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin
There are but few more among, the signers of the by-laws of Harmony Lodge, whom I knew so well as to enable me to frame from their histories and sketch which would be interesting to the readers of the Recorder. Yet, I still recur to the time-stained package with mixed emotions of pleasure and sadness—that pleasure which we all have in the remembrance of earlier and happier days—that sadness which we all feel as the records bring home to our hearts the realization that the years have passed over us, and that we are old.
One of the few remaining names, is that of ISAAC VAN LOAN. He has not been so long dead, but that most of your villagers remember him with the respect and honor due to the good man’s memory. He was, in early life, a mason by occupation, but did no long pursue the trade. Not a great while after the formation of the County, he occupied the position of Sheriff, being appointed by the "Governor and Council" before that office (sheriff) was made elective by the Constitution of 1821. Of course, I knew little or nothing of him, personally, then, my first remembrance of him, personally, then, dating from the time when, about the year 1818, I made my first trip to New York, on board the good sloop Delaware, of which he was Captain and owner. At that time but few persons traveled by steamboat, and almost every incident of that voyage is as distinct to my recollection as though it occurred but yesterday. The dropping of the anchor when the tide was unfavorable; the rowing ashore to procure milk, butter, eggs at the farm houses on the banks; the assisting our headway, in the absence of wind, by getting up a "white ash breeze"; the excellent fare; the jolly stories of the passengers, and my emotions when, after a three days passage, we came in sight of the great city, (then numbering scarcely one-tenth of its present population) will probably never pass from my memory.
In those days, the Catskill skippers, besides Captain VAN LOAN, were BARENT DU BOIS, (father of the late SAMUEL DU BOIS,) JAMES BOGARDUS, ABRAM POST, Capt. ROCKERFELLER, and others; and a more jovial, kind-hearted band of worthies never handled a tiller. In deed, I think there was no place of its size on the North River where congregated so great a number of River boatmen, and retired sea-faring men, as Catskill, and, while their names are in my mind, I may as well mention a few.
Captain JACOB DUNHAM is, I believe, the sole survivor of them all; and he can tell you, better than I can, of his adventures by sea and land, in the West Indies and along the Mosquito Shore, and of his capture by the Pirates.
There was old Captain DRAKE—we used to call him Admiral—who became blind, and died in the Alms-house. ABRAM J. FONDA, Captains, CAMPBELL, BRITTON, BEN. HYDE, and a host of others. These four were good story-tellers, the three last named being renowned for veracity, and they kept their reputations bright by the frequent recital of the wonders they had seen on the great deep, and in the far-off islands of the sea.
I have sat for hours and listened to the stories of seal fishing, and of the polar deer whose horns grew on the tips of their tails, as related by Capt. Campbell. I have enjoyed many an evening with Capt. Britton, while he told of his voyages to Ireland with a cargo of potatoes, and how, having accidentally left one in each bag, he found, in his return voyage, his vessel (which he supposed to be only in ballast) fast settling in the water, and how, upon taking up the hatches to look for the leak, he discovered that the seed potatoes had propagated, each its bag full, so that he returned with a larger cargo of the esculent than he set out with. And how, on another voyage, having lost overboard in mid ocean a fine female pointer, he was surprised and delighted when, about ten days after his arrival in port, she came swimming into the harbor with six beautiful pups at her heels; and, as he remarked: "If you’ll believe me, my boy, every one of them web-footed, at that!"
But I think Ben Hyde exceeded them all in the marvelous. The scenes of this exploits were, however, laid nearer home, and are doubtless in the memories of most of your readers. I well remember a night, when the wind blew such a hurricane that I supposed our house would be carried away, and I was glad when daylight appeared, so that I might get down into Main Street. In the grey of the morning I met "Uncle Ben," and very naturally remarked that it had been "an awful windy night." "Poh! My lad," said he, "this is but a puff. Once when we were sailing a vessel near the entrance of the Highlands, a gale of wind sprang up, seized a cart, with a man and boy in it, and a pair of oxen attached, blew them all clear across Newburgh Bay, and landed them safely in an apple tree. Being amused with the incident, I did not pay proper attention to the course of the sloop, and the main sail suddenly jubing, the boom caught under a barrel of beef, and threw it over Butter Hill, where it was found the next Summer, on the opposite side of the mountain near its summit, by a boy and girl who were huckleberrying."
BROMMY FONDA dealt less in the Gulliverean line, though he could tell some good stories. I remember an incident in the early life of THURLOW WEED, which he related, but which I would not repeat here it if probability had not been confirmed by a recent letter of Mr. Weed’s, declining a public reception in New York in which he mentions having first visited that city as a cabin boy of a Catskill sloop. Fonda, who was sailing-master or skipper of the vessel, was one morning engaged in conversation with some of the passengers, when Thurlow, intent—as he even now is—upon acquiring useful information, stood listening with curious visage and tea-kettle in hand, to the colloquy. Being observed by Fonda, he was sharply rebuked, and ordered to duty.—Frightened and disconcerted by the reprimand, instead of filling his tea-kettle, he incontinently threw it overboard—a feat which, about these days, he seems desirous to perform for the Abolition branch of the Republican party.
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But I have quite forgotten Capt. Van Loan, and having already extended this article to the limits of my column, I will defer my intended sketch to another number.