Inside This Issue
The FACSI Newsletter
Volume 1 Issue 6
Pearse O'Callaghan, Director, N.Y. State Division of Cemeteries
This edition of the FACSI Newsletter will try to give all the thanks due to its many contributors, celebrate the spirit of giving during the Christmas Season, and look forward to the hopes of the New Year. A grave smile to the Past; the Present and the Future. -- Ed.
On page 4 of "The Town Book for Castleton, For the Entry of Black Children", there is found this item: "I do hereby certify that amale negro child named Nicholas, the Father of whom named Sam belongs to me and the Mother named Bett belongs to Cornelius Cruser was born in my House at Casteltown the eight day of may in the year of our Lord one thousand Eight hundred, and I request that this return of the birth of the Said child may be Entered agreeable to the directions contained In a late Act for the gradual Abolition of Slavery". Castletown, January 15, 1801, John Mercereau
The name of the father of Nicholas differs in the two documents, but the informant of the earlier one, John Mersereau/Mercereau, may be the more credible of the two. Aside from the fact that we do not know who gave the information for the death certificate, Mercereau statement has further support on other facts in the 1807 Will of Cornelius Cruser, yeoman of Castleton (Liber A, p. 369-File 131) which states "to my daughter, Lanah, wife of John Mersereau (I give) my negro woman Betty, together with her children, Sam, peg, Phebe, Violet, Claus, Bet, John and others which yet remain to be born to her." Claus was the nickname of Nicholas (as we know St. Nicholas became Santa Claus).
Cornelius Cruser named his son in law, John Mersereau, as a co-executor of his Will when he signed it on July 12, 1807. The other co-ex- ecutors were John Housman, John Garretson and his son John Cruser. For some reason, Cruser and Mersereau were replaced in a December 1807 Codicil by John Tysen Jr., and Henry Crocheron. The Will was probated on December 31, 1807.
The key passage in the Cruser reference to "a late Act for the gradual Abolition of Slavery" reads: "Any child born of a slave within this State after the 4th day of July next, shall be deemed and adjudged to be born free, Provided nevertheless that such child be the servant of the legal proprieter of his slave mother until such servant if a male shall arrive at the age of twenty eight years, and if a female at the age of twenty five years." Technically, Nicholas was born free, but was to continue as an indentured servant until 1828. The Gradual Abolition Act was passed on March 29, 1799. Later, however, a special message from then Governor Daniel D. Tompkins of Tompkinsville, S. I. on January 28, 1817 was concurred in by the N.Y. State Legislature. On March 31, 1817 the legislature passed a final abolition act to take effect on the 5th of July, 1827. Legally, it did not affect the indentures, but practically those bound to service considered themselves free.
The Gazette obituary of Nicholas on December 5, 1885, noted that he was born "where the frame house (built by Abraham Crocheron) now stands which is occupied by Dr. Boget at the turn of the road just west of the meadows fronting the Sailor's Snug Harbor". It was further described as a stone house then located at the corner of Richmond Terrace and Delafield Place and owned by John Mersereau. Moreover, Betty's ten children were sketched in as John (who became an engineer on the steamboat "Staten Islander" owned by Commodore Vanderbilt), Joe (who ran away), Tom, Sam, Phebe, Violet, Ann, Betsy, Peggy (who married Harry Ryerrs) possibly prior to being owned by Mrs George Cadmus whose husband's farm adjoined that of the Merserau's).
After the death of Mr. & Mrs Mersereau (John dying before August 2, 1826 according to his Letters of Administration; Lanah's date is uncertain but she was co-administrator, with her son in law, Abraham Crocheron), the "slaves", including Claus, passed into the possession of their only child, Margaret, wife of Abraham Crocheron.
Nicholas's funeral in the Richmond Terrace Church of the Ascension, was attended by many, including the Hon. Erastus Brooks, Mrs Francis George Shaw (who contributed an ivy wreath tied with white satin ribbon). The Duffie and Pelton family sisters erected the gravestone [Ed.-which appears to be missing in 1984]. The March 28th 1883 edition of the S. I. Gazette & Sentinel reported that Nicholas DeHart had been specially honored by "a handsome present tendered by the pastor and congregation of the church where he had been sexton for over 30 years." He evidently had been there before the church was erected on the site of the old Trinity Chapel of St. Andrews, and was mentioned as becoming a communicant in the Chapel under the Rev. David Moore -- pastor of St. Andrews from 1808-1856.-- on Dec. 26, 1830.
More on the West Brighton history embodied in the burial plot of this prominent family will be continued in the next issue of the FACSI Newsletter.
C. G. Hine & W. T. Davis (The S. I. Historical Soc., 1923), and there she relates how Claus became an experienced gardener and took care of Mr. Parker's house at the corner of Davis Ave. and the shore. Miss Parker became Mrs Charles Goodhue and lived in the house on Clinton Ave. which she ultimately willed to the Children's Aid Society for a country home. When Claus became too old for gardening and went into the oyster business, he and Aunt Mary Ann lived in a tiny house under the hill on the old Factoryville dock at the foot of Broadway.
According to the S. I. Gazette of Dec. 5, 1885, Claus was also a cook upon the steamboat "Bologna" which plied between pilot Cornelius Vanderbilt's New Brunswick home in N. J., and New York, stopping at Staten Island. -Ed.]
References: cod=Cause of Death; Vosburgh="Gravestone Inscriptions"; WNG = West New Brighton; b=born; d=died; y=years bur=buried
|William||26 Aug 1857||It was stated at the death of Nicholas DeHart that he was the father of 4 sons and 4 daughters,with one son and three daughters surviving him. Perhaps one or more of the above are his pre-deceased sons(?).|
|Henry||25 July 1872|
|Madison||17 Jan 1873|
|Gertrude||15 May 1904||d. Randalls Island, Pneumonia, res. Broadway, S. I. 27 years old.|
|Mary R.||22 May 1908||res. 4 Van St., 65y (Vosburgh: b. Sept 9, 1840, d. May 22, 1908)|
|Henry||15 Mar 1909||res. 3 Van St., W.B., 76 y. (Vosburgh: b. Apr 14 1833, d. Mar 15 1909)|
|Henry Ross||d. 14 Apr. 1936||res. 31 Harrison Ave., 61y/7m/26d. d. Port Richmond, cod-aeortic insufficiency (Vosburgh: Mary/wife of Nicholas DeHart/b. July 5, 1802/d. May 14, 1875 and William/son of Nicholas & Mary DeHart/d. Aug 26, 1857, 23y/4m/16d)|