HISTORY OF

SARATOGA COUNTY, NEW YORK.

by NATHANIEL BARTLETT SYLVESTER

1878

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GIDEON PUTNAM.

 

Portrait of Doanda Risley Putnam

 

The Putnam family traces its descent from John Putnam, who came from England in 1684, and located at Danvers, Massachusetts. He had three sons, Thomas, Nathan, and John, and these three form the branches from which have sprung the numerous and influential family of Putnam.

From Thomas descended a long line of prominent persons, including General Israel Putnam, of Revolutionary fame, and Gideon Putnam, the man of strong nerve, comprehensive powers of invention, and indomitable will, who was the virtual creator or originator of the beautiful villain of Saratoga Springs.

GIDEON PUTNAM was the son of Rufus and Mary Putnam, and was born in the town of Sutton, Massachusetts, in the year 1764. He started forth at an early age to encounter the vicissitudes and changes of life. He married Miss Doanda Risley, daughter of Squire Benjamin Risley, a gentleman of influence and means, at Hartford, Connecticut. His wife accompanied him in his pursuit after fortune, and worthily and faithfully shared in his trials, difficulties, and successes.

He first took his way to Middlebury, Vermont, where he erected a cabin on the very site now occupied by the Middlebury college buildings, and where his first child was born. After remaining there for a time he removed to Rutland, Vermont, and it was there that Benjamin Putnam was born. From Rutland they removed to the "Five Nations," or "Bemus Flats." Here they were joined by Dr. Clement Blakesley, who married Theodosia, a sister of Mrs. Putnam, and who was a physician of acknowledged skill and prominence in his profession. But Putnam was still dissatisfied with his choice of location, and pushed on still farther, until, in the year 1789, they arrived at the Springs, which were then scarcely known. On reaching that point he determined to establish himself there. He selected a piece of ground near a fresh-water spring, and built a cabin on Prospect Hill, on land afterwards owned by his son Benjamin. Here he entered actively into farming operations, engaging also in the manufacture of staves and shingles. These he carried to the Hudson river, at the mouth of Fish creek, and subsequently, sold to advantage in New York city, it proving the beginning of a large lumber trade, which he successfully carried on for years. He now began to accumulate means, and purchased, in 1791, his first land at Saratoga Springs, consisting of three hundred acres, of Dirck Lefferts, who was one of the original purchasers of the Kayadrossera patent.

In 1802 he purchased some land of Henry Walton, and began the erection of Union Hall, which his descendants owned until purchased by Mr. Leland. In 1805 he purchased more land of Walton, consisting of one hundred and thirty acres, and on a part of it he laid out a village, and set apart a portion of it for a burial-ground. This he afterwards gave to the village, and in it are buried many of the old pioneers of the county, and most all of Putnam's descendants who have died.

In 1806 he excavated and tubed the Washington spring, and soon after the Columbian spring. The springs were now annually becoming more popular, and the number of strangers constantly increased.

Putnam next tubed the Hamilton spring, and about 1809 discovered and tubed the celebrated Congress spring. A manuscript handbill, issued by Putnam, bearing date June 11,1811, is still extant, in which he forbids, under pain of legal penalties, any person from washing in the spring, putting dirt or other material into it, or bottling the waters for transportation and sale.

In 1811, Putnam began the erection of Congress Hall, and while the masons were plastering at the north end of the plaza, he fell from the scaffolding which they were using, and suffered severe injuries. In the following November he was attacked by disease, and died December 1, 1812, at the early age of forty-nine years, his being the first body laid in the ground he had so generously donated to the public use.

Gideon Putnam was in every sense a remarkable man. Possessed of indomitable perseverance, stern resolution, and invincible energy, he early encountered the trials and privations incident to a pioneer life, and carved out from the primitive forest one of the most beautiful villages in the country, and which had proved one of the most popular places of summer resort. Its broad streets, free fountains, and abundant religions and educational advantages bear testimony alike to his comprehensive ingenuity, his liberality, and his respect for truth. He not only gave the burial-ground to the village, but also the ground for the village academy, and to the Baptist church the ground on which it stands. He made such an impression on the place of his choice that his name must ever stand first among these whose early self-denials and energetic lives have conferred so much upon the village.

Gideon Putnam's biography would not be complete without special mention of his estimable wife, whose portrait, so full of character, may be seen on this page. She was a woman of rare personal excellence, of a deeply religious nature, a faithful, true, and patient wife, a careful and affectionate mother, of pleasant manner, and loved and respected by all who knew her. She was one of the first members of the Presbyterian church of Saratoga Springs, and closely identified with its various religious and charitable enterprises. It was she who bore the first white child born in the village, who was Lewis Putnam. She died Feb. 10, 1835.

Benjamin Risley, the father of Mrs. Putnam, came to Saratoga Springs about the time that Gideon Putnam died, bringing with him considerable means. He built a large home near High Rock spring, which was afterwards occupied by Thaddeus Smith. This home stood upon land which Risley purchased of Catherine M. Von Dam. He had a number of daughters, of whom Theodosia married Dr. Clement Blakesley, as has been stated, and who was the first physician who practiced in the village. Another daughter, Phila, married Matthew Lyon, who edited the first newspaper started in Saratoga Springs, end afterwards removed to and edited a paper at Washington, D.C. There Laura married Judge Pease, of Ohio, a gentleman of prominence; and Nancy married a Mr. Lawrence, a member of congress from Louisiana. Lawrence's daughter married a Mr. Donaldson, and presided at the White House during the administration of General Jackson as president.

The children of Gideon and Doanda Putnam were Benjamin, Lewis, Rockwell, Washington, and Loren - most of whom inherited and manifested the energy and special characteristics of their parents, - and Mrs. Betsey Taylor, Mrs. Amelia Clement, Mrs. Nancy Andrews, and Mrs. Phila Kellogg. Of these all are now dead save Mrs. Kellogg, who resides in southern Illinois.

It is the children of these sons and daughters who cause this brief memoir of the many excellencies of their grandparents to be inserted in this work.

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Transcribed from the original text and html prepared by Bill Carr, last updated 2/7/00.

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