by Mr. Thurlow Weed
Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin
Albany, March 29, 1865
To the Editor of the Recorder and Democrat:
In your Recorder of the 24th inst., (which I received this morning) a writer who recalls and describes some of the early inhabitants of your Village, "remembers, as among the earliest Draymen of Catskill, the two JOE WEEDS, (Joel and Joseph) one of whom, I do not know which, was the progenitor of THURLOW WEED. Though in humble life, both were esteemed, I believe, as honest, industrious men."
Though a matter of no possible interest to any one but myself, allow me to say that JOEL WEED, the younger brother, was my father. They were "honest, industrious" cartmen, my uncle JOSEPH being the more prosperous. Indeed, he owned a house still standing, about half-way between "CHANDLER’S" and the Bridge; while we "moved" annually, at least renting apartments in the "Stone Jug," "Number Eight," (I can’t remember why No. 8) GULLEN’S Barber Shop, &c., My uncle JOSEPH had one son, GEORGE L. WEED, a very worthy man, and well known Christian Missionary. I had two brothers; one (Orrin) died in New York in 1818, and the other (Osborn) in Tennessee in 1851. My father died in Onondaga forty-six years ago; my mother in Tennessee, in 1846.
This is all—perhaps more than anybody will care to learn—of my origin. But your correspondent has tuned my thoughts back to the Catskill that I remember during the first seven years of the present century; and some of its "oldest inhabitants" may be interested in reminiscences of that period. I am not as much mistaken, probably, in the impression that Catskill was a place of more business enterprise and activity then than at present, as I was, after an absence of nearly twenty years, in the width of the Creek, the height of the "Hop-o’-nose," and the distance from "DONNELLY’S" to the Court House. At any rate, however, the Catskill of my youth was a bustling, thrifty, pleasant Village, with considerable commerce, two ship-yards, and in the Winter a large slaughtering and packing business.
Among its inhabitants were men of decided ability—men who, in any community, would stand out prominently upon the canvass.—Such, for example, were THOMAS P. GROSVENOR, JACOB and SAMUEL HAIGHT, the DAYS, the CROSWELLS, the COOKES, the HILLS, &c., &c.,
But my mind retains most vividly incidents rather than individuals. In those days, hard as it may seem now, poor men, however honest, lived in dread of Imprisonment! My father was one of a class of whom ill-fortune tracked through life. He worked hard, but never prospered. His horse was always sick, or lame, or was backing the cart off the Dock. The Debtors’ Prison, therefore, was ever staring us in the face. But there was this blessed mitigation of the horrors of a Debtors’ Prison. There were Gaol Liberties connected with the prison, of which a debtor, with a reputation for honesty, and a wealthy friend who would sign his bond to remain upon the "Limits," might avail himself. The Limits, accurately defined, extended to business parts of the Village, so that a poor man stood some chance of keeping the wolf from devouring his wife and children. This, however, was not the full measure of the Law’s humanity. On Sunday the debtor was free! And on these days of jubilee I used to roam with my enfranchised father, down to the "Point," over the Shad Fishery, or up to Jefferson, with a deep sense of gratitude that he was permitted, on day in the week, to walk God’s earth, and breathe His atmosphere, unrestrained. Creditors were on the watch, always, for truant debtors, who sometimes failed to return to the Limits before twelve o’clock on Sunday night.
I do not remember the "MAMMY KANE," whom your correspondent chronicles as the depository of boys sixpences. The Ginger-bread and Spruce Beer House most resorted to sixty years ago, was kept quite at the upper end of the Village, near "BRUSHINGHAM’S." There were three hotels, (DONNELLY’S, CHANDLER’S, and BOTTSFORD’S,) in Catskill then, each, I am sure, more extensively known than any of your present hotels. The late gallant Col. DONNELLY was a grand-son of the keeper of the hotel I refer to.
Among the events that impressed themselves upon my memory, indelibly, was the drowning of a daughter of Mr. HILL, by a freshet, and the loss of a son of Mr. DONNELLY, by skating on an air-hole on Moose Creek, (I believe that was the name), a mile or two below the mouth of the Catskill Creek, Skating, so much the fashion now, was a favorite exercise of the grand-fathers of those who so enjoy it now. Though ladies did not then share the excitement.
An incident remembered of course by but a very few, was then an "eight days wonder." This was a personal combat between two young gentlemen, rivals for the hand of an accomplished young lady, but as at least one of the parties survive. (eminent and honored.) perhaps even this reference to the circumstance may be ill-timed.
The first military funeral I ever witnessed, was that of Major HALE. This was in 1803 or ‘4. It was very impressive, especially in the led horse, with the holster, boots, &c., of the deceased Revolutionary officer.
In those days there was a delusion among poor but credulous people, about the buried treasure of Capt. KIDD. I remember to have been, as a boy, permitted to accompany a party on an expedition which was supposed to be pregnant with golden results. Upon reaching the mysterious locality, the throat of a black cat was cut, and the precise spot was indicated by the direction the blood spurted. And there the digging commenced, with an energy worthy of DOUSTERSWIVEL, in ‘Antiquary,’ but it was not rewarded by even so much as the discovery of "Search No. 1."
As boys, we used to go down to the magnificent (but even then dilapidated, and long since demolished) LIVINGSTON Manor House, at the mouth of Johnston’s Creek, to pick Barberries, and get frightened by the screechings of an insane lady, confined in the apartment in the white house upon the hill.
The great event, and one that excited Catskill for many months, was a murder! A body was discovered early one Sunday morning, on the West shore of the Creek, near DUBOIS’ farm. I forget whether the name of the murdered man was SCOTT, or whether that was the name of the murderer. Soon it was ascertained that the man was last seen at NANCE McFALL’S, a disreputable house out of the Village, but near the spot where the body was found. Circumstances came out which satisfied the inhabitants that he had been murdered. Toward evening groups were seen at corners, growing more and more excited, until, Justice not yet having drawn on its boots, the multitude pressed through the Main street, strengthening in numbers and enthusiasm, down to the dwelling of the doomed NANCE, which was demolished and scattered to be hung; but on the day of execution, and only and hour from the fatal moment, when an immense concourse of people were assembled, came a Reprieve!
The great man I ever saw was Governor MORGAN LEWIS, who reviewed the brigade in the Village of Madison, in 1806.
In early Embargo days, there was much of party bitterness at Catskill. The Federalists wore black cockades. This exasperated the Republicans. I remember an occasion when a Light Infantry company (commanded, I believe, by MAJOR HAIGHT) being paraded, that a general street collision was with much difficulty arrested.
I wonder if any of the half dozen boys who, with myself, put their clothes in their hats, and placing the hats upon a board, pushing it ahead, swam off to the island (now the steamboat landing) to await the approach of the first steamboat, still survive?
My first occupation was to blow and strike in the blacksmith shop of a Mr. REEVES, which stood not far East of the IRA DAY house. I afterwards lived with a Captain BAKER, on the bridge, and subsequently with him in a tavern at Jefferson.
My River experience, as cabin boy, or cook, was with Captains GRANT and BOGARDUS, in the sloops Ranger and Jefferson. My inclination for the life of a sailor was fostered by a strong attachment for a JAMES VAN VOORT, a handsome, dashing fellow, with a rich, melodious voice, who followed, the River in the season of navigation, and worked a this trade, as a nailer, (Nails were not made with machinery then) in the Winter. But this inclination was always subordinate to my desire to become a Printer. My great ambition was to get apprenticed to Mr. MACKEY CROSWELL, who then published the Recorder, but the realization of that object was postponed, though I lingered about the printing office a good deal, doing chores, and learning what I could learn as an interloper.
Your correspondent kindly refers to the circumstances that Mr. EDWIN CROSWELL and myself "were boys together at Catskill."—Though of the same age, we were not intimate as boys. He had the advantage of me in position, education, &c. Nor had he, like JACK GRAHAM and GIL FROST, a taste for sports and adventures, in which I remember to have participated. Mr. CROSWELL, as a boy, was noticeable for the same quiet, studious, refined habits and association which have characterized his whole life. I left Catskill in 1808, and did not again meet Mr. CROSWELL for nearly twenty years. In 1830, as editor of the Evening Journal, (Mr. CROSWELL having been for several years editor of the Argus) we came into sharp collision. Albany was then, and for years before and after that period, a political centre for both the State and Nation. Each party confided the duty of organization and discipline to their respective editors. A sense of responsibility stimulated both. Long years of earnest controversy and intense feeling ensued. The warfare, unhappily, assumed not only political but personal and social aspects.
The leading men of the Democratic party possessed talents, experience and tact. The "Albany Regency," consisting, as it did, of such men as Mr. VAN BUREN, Gov. MAROY, Mr. KNOWER, SILAS WRIGHT, Mr. FLAGG, S. A. TALCOTT, T. W. OLCOTT, &c., found in Mr. CROSWELL, their colleague and editor, sound judgement, untiring industry, great devotion and rare ability. Gov. MARCY, Mr. WRIGHT and Gen. DIX, distinguished for Legislative and Executive ability, were very able contributors to the columns of the Argus. Against such men, with General JACKSON as their Chief, it was my privilege to contend; and now, all the bitterness engendered by such conflicts having been soothed by time, it is pleasant to remember that before the curtain fell, at the closing scene of that political drama, agreeable personal relations grew up between most of these eminent men and myself. I was first introduced to Mr. VAN BUREN at the funeral of my intimate friend, the late Gov. MARCY. This was my first and last meeting with the then ex-President. For several years before the death of SILAS WRIGHT, we were friends.—With Mr. FLAGG, who survives, like BELISARIUS, with lost vision but bright intellect, I have long enjoyed common sentiments and sympathies; and my relations with Gen. DIX, political, personal and social, are most pleasant. With Mr. OLCOTT, the able financier for the "Regency" in its palm days, peculiar relations have ever existed. He never refused me a pecuniary favor, and for the first twenty years of my residence here, I had to ask for myself and other poor politicians, very many. He has discounted scores of notes where the maker and endorser were equally good—for nothing. Protests, "plenty as blackberries," never injured my credit at the "Little Belt."
I remember to have formed a high estimate of the usefulness of three citizens of Catskill, viz: Dr. CROSWELL, the Rev. Dr. PORTER, and JACOB HAIGHT. Perhaps I only share the common sentiment of the Village; but, at any rate, those gentlemen came up to my ideal of model men. Later in life, while serving with Major HAIGHT in the Legislature, my early impressions of his worth were confirmed.
Your correspondent is quite right in assuming that I "cherish fond recollections" of Catskill. In the first years of my banishment—for Catskill was an Eden to my youthful memory—my chief happiness consisted in anticipating, at some future day, a return to that charmed locality. And only last Summer, moved by something like the instinct which brings "chickens home to roost." I explored the Village in search of what was not found—a finished mansion with pleasant surroundings, and "For Sale."
The length of this letter admonishes me that it must close. In speaking or writing of thins which occurred three scores of years ago, old men are pretty sure to be prolix if not posy. Respectively Yours,