by Mr. Edwin Croswell
Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin
To the Editor of the Recorder and Democrat:
Dear Sir—I have delayed and acknowledgment of your favor, of the last month, inviting the fulfillment of a partial promise to add in some form to the local sketches of Catskill, which the Recorder and Democrat has given to its readers, from the genial and felicitous of the late JAMES D. PINCKNEY, and which you propose to re-publish and issue in pamphlet form. The delay has arisen from a doubt whether anything I could recall could add to the intrinsic interest of sketches which belong to men and events long since passed, and the fidelity or merit of which few at this day could recognize. This doubt is by no means dispelled. But there are newspaper statistics or circumstances touching the origin and antecedents of you own journal, which have not yet been definitely stated, that may be said to belong to your own position and successful efforts in journalism.
The first issue of a newspaper in Catskill, was on Monday, August 6th, 1792. It was entitled the Catskill Packet, with a neatly engraved vignette of a sloop, under full sail, jib, foresail, mainsail, topsail, flag, &c., "Printed by MACKAY CROSWELL & Co., Catskill Landing, price Ten Shillings per annum." The typography was in the quaint style and type of the day, and the sheet the size then known as Crown, a trifle larger than foolscap. The subject of the opening editorial was "Public Happiness," a theme which has lost none of its interest in the lapse of seventy-six years, and in which the editors hazard a flattering prediction, that if not fully confirmed by time, is owing solely to the political or moral obliquity of public men:
"From the beginning of time, [say the editors] there were never so many causes in operation to diffuse universal science, and such powerful and multiplied means to enlighten the whole people, as are now seen in this country. If the design of Providence can be learnt from the long chain of causes and events, which have conspicuously marked the history of this country, moral reasoning will confirm the conclusion from nature and present facts. Every appearance in reason and nature, the past and the present, express in capitals the glowing prospects and pre-eminence of Columbia. Let the EDUCATION OF THE CHILDREN forever be considered and pursued as the first concern—by legislators, judges, clergymen, and by ALL men. This, and this only, will cover with perfect and never-fading glory the empire of Freedom."
In May, 1795, the title was changed to the Catskill Packet and Western Mail; and again in May, 1800, to the Western Constellation, by MACKEY and HARRY CROSWELL; and in May, 1804, to the Catskill Recorder, by MACKAY CROSWELL.
These were the "advance sheets" of the present Recorder and Democrat, which stands among the modern journals equal to the foremost in its ample pages, beauty of typography, and in all the accessories of varied, useful and pleasant reading. Its broad sheet and animated contents may be compared with its seven-by-nine prototype of seventy-five years ago with a natural pride, that while much of the change may be ascribed to time, and the altered condition of things, yet that the comparison applied to surrounding journals of its own times, will show it unsurpassed in the art of skill of making up a newspaper, and giving life and spirit to journalism.
The "&Co." of the first Catskill Packet was Dr. THOMAS O’HARA CROSWELL, who, at the end of the first or second year, retired from the concern, and devoted himself to his drug store and medical practice. This was the foundation of a long career of usefulness and philanthropy, as the beloved physician and venerated citizen—whose kindness and pleasantries, not less than his skill, were the delight and life of his patients; who gave a practice of more than fifty years gratuitously to the poor; who was the first Postmaster of the Village, commissioned by WASHINGTON, and held the place, without a thought of change on the part of any inhabitant, until his death, in 1844. Of that event, an unpublished letter gives the following account:
"Jan. 20, 1844.—During the past year, and particularly the previous week of that acute illness, there was even less tone in his manner, and his countenance had become sharp and pinched. But after death, and when laid in his coffin, it seemed to expand; it seemed also to be less marked by age; it wore the benign and manly expression of twenty years ago; and it was a great consolation to his aged and saintly widow, that she could draw from its serene aspect the conclusion that he was at peace. If a delusion, it was grateful and consolatory; but no one could look upon that countenance, with its mild and happy expression, and recall his noble and good qualities, and not feel, with her, some such comforting assurance. And there were many who came to look upon it, during the two days the body lay in the front room. All the day of the funeral the room was thronged with the poor, and nearly the entire colored population came in, stood round his corpse, and shed tears. The whole town wore the aspect of sorrow and mourning. All the stores and shops were closed during the day; and every one seemed to feel the loss of a friend and benefactor. Since the existence of the Village, such demonstrations of affection and respect have not been made. The Church (whence the coffin was conveyed, after prayer by the Rev. Mr. JUDD, at the house) was crowded in every part of it, and after the sermon, when the rector, (Rev. Mr. PHILLIPS) alluded to the deceased, not only his feelings, but those of the assemblage, were quite uncontrolable. The procession to the grave, extending the entire length of the hill, and including women and children was equally expressive of the universal feeling."
In the Western Constellation, HARRY CROSWELL (afterward Rev. Dr. CROSWELL) began a career which culminated in establishing at Hudson, a few years subsequently, The Balance, a quarto political and miscellaneous publication, which acquired a wide celebrity for its wit and talent; to which was added, for a time, The Wasp, a weekly auxilliary of caustic satire and point. After a few years of editorial life at Albany, he sought that better life in which, as a devoted servant of his Savior, in upwards of forty years uninterrupted duty as Rector of Trinity Church, New Haven, at the age of eighty years, he saw his labors greatly blessed, and his name and praise in all the churches in Connecticut.
But there is an episode in the history of Catskill journalism, or semi-journalism, which if ever known to any of the present generation, has doubtless passed from their memories. As early as 1814, several young persons, all in their teens, whose pursuits and tastes were congenial, organized a club or association, and resolved to issue a weekly publication. After much cogitation, it was named The Zetetic, and duly ushered, in numbers, in pamphlet form of eight pages, 10mo. size on writing paper, and a neat new minion type. It came into being with motto and title, in handsome style. However remote the imitation in other respects, the thought was probably borrowed from Salmagundi, the offspring of several years previous, but familiar at this time to all who relished good things in print. It reached its sixth number, at which its free but good tempered strictures upon the habits, customs and peculiarities of the town, with its sallies and hits, won for it something of the satire it was not sparing in applying to everything supposed to be an object of criticism, and its career came to an end. A copy of it is probably not now in existence. Two only of its writers are living at the present day. Foremost in the enterprise was SAMUEL GEORGE ANDREWS, then a clerk in the store of Mr. E. T. GAYLORD, from whose fertile brain and ready pen came its salutatory to the reader, and generally the leading editorial of each number. Mr. ANDREWS was a native of Derby, Conn. whence his father removed to Rochester, N. Y., where he had an estate and was among the early settlers of that enterprising and rapidly advancing city. GEORGE, as he was familiarly called, ultimately followed the family, and in due time rose there to high respect and consideration—as Mayor of the City, Clerk of the County, Member of Assembly, Postmaster, and Representative in Congress. A well-known writer, who has made a valuable contribution to your local sketches (Mr. THUROW WEED), and whose pen lends grace and interest to its efforts, at the death of Mr. ANDREWS, in 1863, paid a well-merited tribute to his manly qualities of head and heart:
"Few natures were more genial than that of Mr. ANDREWS; few more uniformly cheerful and none more perfectly amiable. Indeed, all the gentler qualities of manhood were most happily blended in the character of Mr. ANDREWS—not put on, like costly apparel for gala occasions, but his every-day habit. Every body, therefore, liked GEORGE ANDREWS, because he was attentive, obliging, kind and generous to all. Though a marked man, in many respects, it was in his domestic and social relations that Mr. ANDREWS was most distinguished and most beloved."
JOHN STOCKING, Jr., clerk of Mr. LYMAN HALL, another of the contributors, was a native of Oneida County—migrated to the South, and as a merchant and citizen acquired distinction, being some years before his death Mayor of Mobile. EVITTS MOODY, from Litchfield, Conn., and GILBERT FROST (or GIL FROST) were clerks in the store of Mr. MARK SPENCER. MOODY was the most carefully dressed of the squad, and was at home in matters of apparel. He died three years later (1817) at Savannah. NATHANIEL BRITTON, son of Capt. WM. BRITTON, from Newport, R. I. engaged in sea-going pursuits, (as his father was) was lost at sea. The only survivor of the coterie of unfledged "reformers of the town" now residing in Catskill, is your much-respected fellow-citizen, Mr. JOHN M. DONNELLY, who was a particular associate of Mr. ANDREWS, and active in the field. The only other survivor, there or elsewhere, is the writer of this sketch, who, as the intimate friend of Mr. ANDREWS, participated in all the progress of the performance, and whose contributions to each number appeared as coming from the "Knight of the Round Table."
The Zeletic claimed for Catskill the paternity of a saying which had been ascribed to another and distant locality. The senior member of a respectable mercantile firm in the Village, reading the New York paper one morning, when the wars on the Continent were in vogue, said to his associate; "BONAPARTE has taken umbrage at Prussia." "Confound him!" exclaimed his partner, "I wonder what he will take next!"
Two prominent residents of Catskill, during much of the War of 1812, were Judge MOSES I. CANTINE, (deservedly esteemed as a Christian gentleman, and lawyer, a State Senator, and leading Democrat—then styled "Republican") and THOMAS P. GROSVENOR, a leading and distinguished Federalist, and Member of Congress. At that period party feeling ran high, and in the course of a political canvass, something said or written by Judge CANTINE, was resented by Mr. GROSVENOR, and followed by a challenge to mortal combat. Judge CANTINE had the courage to decline that mode of arbitrement, and the public judgement approved his action. He evinced his patriotism by serving as an officer on the Northern frontier at a critical period of the war. Mrs. CANTINE and Mrs. MARTIN VAN BUREN were daughters (the former by adoption) of Mrs. WITBECK, of Kinderhook.
Mr. GROSVENOR removed to the South soon after the occurrence above mentioned; and was complimented before his departure with a public banquet, of extraordinary accompaniments, even for those times. He died at the seat of Judge HANSON, in Maryland, in 1817. The Catskill Recorder, a political opponent, said of him:
"He had for some years been a prominent member of the Opposition party in the House of Representatives of the United States, and was distinguished by a manly eloquence and quick discernment which rendered him an able debater, and formidable opponent. His death is a serious loss to his friends; for he was one of the first among them. By his personal friends he is much, and we believe justly, lamented on account of his private qualities."
Judge CANTINE, removing to Albany, succeeded Judge BUELL as Printer to the State, and editor of the Argus, and died in 1828. He was the first of the editorial trio, who, native or resident of Catskill, became Printers to the State.
Very truly yours,
818 Lexington Avenue, New York, May 1, 1868.