Schoharie County NYGenWeb Site

This biographical sketch is transcribed directly from Roscoe's 1882 History of Schoharie County. Since inaccuracies might exist all information should be checked against other sources. Contributed notes and corrections are added as notes at the end of this page.

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J. H. Ramsey


Of the many students of Jedediah Miller, the most prominent is the Hon. Joseph H. Ramsey, of Albany. Mr. Ramsey being so closely identified with the building of the Susquehanna Railroad, in which he exhibited the business tact and indomitable perseverance of one reared in the manipulations of public enterprises, we cannot give a concise account of his career without referring at some length to, and giving a minute history of the Railroad, or rather, the struggles of the friends of the road in building the same.

In doing so the writer would have preferred to have entered the same in Chapter IV, of this work, but at the time of compiling that portion, it was thought that space could not be given to the details of the enterprise, and therefore the simple outlines of it were recorded.

Joseph Henry Ramsey was born on the 29th of January, 1816, in the town of Sharon, of German and English descent. He studied law with Jedediah Miller and was admitted to practice in all the courts of the State in 1840. He commenced practice and continued in the office of Mr. Miller for several years and succeeded to his practice. After that Mr. Ramsey established an office of his own at Lawyersville and continued the practice of law and in business connected with the building of the Albany & Susquehanna railroad until he removed to Albany City in 1863. In the fall of 1854, he was elected from the Northern, and Wilkinson Wilsey from the Southern Assembly District of the county, as Whigs and served during the session of 1855, the last year Schoharie was represented in the Assembly by two members.

He was a delegate from Schoharie to the Whig State convention in the fall of 1855, and a member also of the joint convention composed of the members of the Whig convention and a State convention of free-soil Democrats which formed the Republican party in this State Senate the same year as a Republican from the 17th Senatorial District comprising the counties of Schoharie and Delaware.

The election of Mr. Ramsey by a constituency, a majority of whom were politically opposed to him, was to quite an extent owing to the strong feeling of a portion of his constituents in the success of the railroad, of which he was an ardent advocate and they expected he would succeed in obtaining necessary Legislation to promote its success. It was not strange that such a feeling should exist, as the region to be penetrated by the road was known as the "Sequestered region" --having no outlet-- either by water navigation or rail, nothing but the old wagon roads. In this connection we will state that the Albany & Susquehanna Railroad company was first organized in 1852, and individual stock subscribed along the line and at Albany to more than a million dollars. An act was also passed the same year authorizing the city of Albany to loan the company, on certain conditions another million dollars of its bonds. In the summer of 1853, a contract was made by the company with Morris, Miller, Baker & Co. then supposed to be the strong parties--financially, to build the entire road, the railroad company agreeing to turn over to the contractors the avails of the individual subscriptions ands the city bonds, as the work progressed and the balance to complete the road in the bonds of the company.

The work was commenced in the spring of 1853, at different points in Albany, Schoharie, Otsego and Broome counties and progressed for a few months, when an unexpected revulsion occurred in railroad affairs, rendering it difficult, if not impossible to negotiate railroad bonds to the extent required to complete the road. This caused the contractors to suspend the work, and it then became evident, unless some way could be devised to increase the stock basis of the company, the project must fail, as it was not possible to compel contractors to perform a work of such magnitude in such times. It was at this crisis, that Mr. Ramsey was called in to consult with the directors as to what course to pursue--take measures to wind up the affairs of the company and abandon the project as a failure, or devise some means of increasing the stock basis or capital of the company and keep the project alive until there was a change of times. Although Mr. Ramsey had before taken part in meetings held to obtain individual subscriptions and was one of the original subscribers to the articles of association, he had not been identified with the company as an officer or director. It was suggested that town subscriptions had been used with success in several cases, and as it was believed impossible at that time to obtain further individual subscriptions to the extent required, Mr. Ramsey was urged to examine the matter and ascertain the prospect of raising means by the use of town bonds. He consented and after examination ascertained that other roads had built with the aid of such bonds and made a success; while on the other hand in many other cases, attempts had been made to use them which had resulted in failure. This rendered the expedient doubtful, and several of the directors thought the risk too great to make the experiment. After some conflict and considerable deliberation, the directors rather than have the project fail and as a last resort, resolved to apply to the Legislature for a law authorizing the towns to subscribe to the stock and issue their bonds in payment, and in that way ascertain whether the people of the towns were disposed to aid or not. Mr. Ramsey was then made a candidate for the Assembly and afterwards for the Senate and elected as stated.

He prepared and introduced a bill in the Assembly for the purpose, when it was discovered there was strong and active opposition to it in Albany. Many of those who had subscribed to the stock had lost confidence in the enterprise, owing more than anything else to the failure of the Northern road, mostly built by Albany capital, and to save paying their subscriptions and the city from the issue of its bonds, wanted the project defeated.

The bill however passed the Assembly that year, but was defeated in the Senate by the determined opposition of the citizens of Albany, except that portion of the act extending the time to complete the road. The next year, Mr. Ramsey having in the meantime been elected to the Senate, introduced the bill in that body, and after encountering a vigorous opposition from the same source, it finally passed both branches of the House and became a law, although the opponents followed the bill into Governor King's chamber, who after hearing them without hearing the other side, signed the bill in their presence.

The law was not, however, in form to make it entirely practical, as the original bill had been amended to require the consent in writing, before a subscription could be made, of two thirds of the tax-payers, representing two-thirds of the taxable property of the town, which in several towns was difficult to obtain. The next session, 1857, the act was amended as originally drafted, which required the consent of only a majority. Several of the towns in the meantime had subscribed under the two-thirds act, and with the subscriptions obtained under the act as amended, another million of dollars was added to the stock basis of the company. The consent of the taxpayers in the several towns was not obtained without considerable effort on the part of friends of the road. Many honestly opposed the subscriptions as wrong in principle, and believed the project would be a failure with them.

After spending considerable time in holding meeting along the line, and of personal exertions in the several towns in obtaining subscriptions, Mr. Ramsey was elected a director, and made Vice-President of the company in 1858. In consequence of the opposition, several of the towns in Schoharie, and one in Otsego, commenced legal proceedings and obtained temporary injunctions to prevent the towns from issuing their bonds on the ground, among others, that the law was unconstitutional. These, with other actions commenced by the company to collect individual subscriptions, continued litigation for several years, and several of the cases were taken to the Court of Appeals. The company finally succeeded in all the litigation's. It became apparent that if a portion of the line could be put in operation it would materially strengthen the company, and in the end ensure the completion of the road. With that view, the work of grading between Albany and Schoharie was let, and the individual subscriptions as far as they could be collected, were used for that purpose. The stockholders of Otsego and further west, objected to paying until the work was resumed in that vicinity--which, with the Albany opposition and other obstacles, delayed the work until the validity of the town subscriptions were settled, when an arrangement was made by which ten per cent of the town subscriptions in Otsego, and all of the Schoharie towns, were to be applied to the opening of the road from Albany to Schoharie creek.

While the struggle was going on, the people along the line became impressed with the idea, that they were then and had been for a long time, taxed for the State Canals and for aid to the Erie and other roads in different parts of the State, and that it would be just and right for the State to aid the "sequestered region: in return. This sentiment became so strong that petitions were numerously signed and presented to the Legislature of 1859, for State aid. The justice and equity of the case appealed with such force to that body, that upon the first application, a bill passed both branches appropriating two hundred thousand dollars to complete that portion of the road between Albany and Schoharie. That bill was vetoed by Governor Morgan, and failed to become a law. That led again to the nomination of Mr. Ramsey, in the fall of 1859, for Senator, in the then 14th Senatorial District, comprising the counties of his old district, with Schenectady added. He was elected by a decided majority, and at the next session of 1860, presented another bill appropriating one million of dollars, to be paid in installments of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars each, as the work progressed, until the road was completed to Binghamton. This bill also passed the Legislature, and failed to become a law by another veto of Governor Morgan. At the next session of 1861, Mr. Ramsey presented another bill cutting down the amount to half a million of dollars, for that portion of the road between Albany and Oneonta, supposing that would make it more acceptable to the Governor. This also passed the Legislature, and was again vetoed by Governor Morgan. Mr. Ramsey was again nominated and elected for the third time to the Senate in the fall of 1861, and at the session of 1862 presented another bill and the Legislature passed it, appropriating the same amount of the year previous, but it received the fourth and last veto of Governor Morgan. In each year the bills were passed over the veto and defeated in the Assembly by executive influence.

In the fall of that year Gov. Seymour was elected, and at the next session, in 1863, Mr. Ramsey presented a bill appropriating the same amount, and for the same portion of the road that Gov. Morgan, the two years previous, vetoed. The bill was again promptly passed and as promptly signed by Gov. Seymoure, and became a law, and thus in part was the "sequestered region" remunerated for taxes paid for improvements before that time in other parts of the State.

That appropriation imparted new life and vigor to the enterprise, so that the road was opened for business to Schoharie Creek in September of the same year. In the meantime Mr. E. P. Prentice, an elderly gentleman of Albany, held the office of President to the company, while most of the labor of the position devolved upon Mr. Ramsey. That or some other cause induced Mr. Prentice to resign early in the spring of 1864, the Presidency, against the earnest protest of Mr. Ramsey and others. The place remained vacant several months, the duties being performed by the Vice-President, when Mr. Ramsey finally consented, and he was unanimously elected President of the Company.

About this time an important negotiation was concluded with the late Daniel Drew, of New York, by which he agreed to take one million dollars of the first bonds of the company. The work beyond Schoharie was continued as fast as practicable, the war having occasioned an inflation of the currency, and prices of labor and material had largely advance. Common labor, which had been from eighty cents to a dollar, in the construction of the road to Schoharie, had increased from one dollar and a half to two dollars per day, and iron with other material bout double the former cost. This made it necessary to proceed with great caution and economy, notwithstanding the promise of State aid and the negotiation of the one million dollars, company bonds. The heavy and expensive work through Schoharie created delay, so that the road was not put in operation to Oneonta until the summer of 1865. The balance of the road to Binghamton, about sixty miles, included a tunnel of 2260 feet in length, and other heavy work in Broome county. With the increase in cost of labor and materials there remained much less means to complete the road than the Company had calculated upon.

An application was therefore made to the Legislature of 1866 for the remaining half million of dollars, included in the second bill, to aid in completing the road. The Legislature again admitted the justice of the bill and promptly passed it, appropriating the amount for that purpose.

Another veto was interposed, however, by Governor Fenton, and the bill failed. The next year, at the session of 1867, the application was renewed for an appropriation of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars for that portion of the road between Oneonta and Harpersville, with the understanding that at the next session, (1868) another application would be made for the balance, two hundred and fifty thousand.

This bill was signed by Gov. Fenton, and it was understood that he would sign another bill for a like amount to complete the road, the next session, if passed by the Legislature.

The bill for the last installment promptly passed, but to the surprise of its friends, was vetoed, again, by Gov. Fenton.

This was a great disappointment, the Company believing there was no doubt the remaining appropriation would be made by the next session, the balance of the work was let to complete the road to Binghamton. This made it necessary to raise the money in some other way, and they were obliged to submit to a large sacrifice on their own bonds for that purpose. The price of common labor still increased from two dollars to two and one half per day, and made the work very expensive, and the company was compelled to increase the pay of the contractors. After encountering many obstacles and with great exertion, the company opened the road to Binghamton in January 1869.

It was ascertained a short time after that event that the Erie road managers desired to make it an appendage to that road, and that efforts were being made by Jay Gould, James Fisk, Jr., and their associates to purchase a majority of the stock. In this attempt they failed, but claimed they had a majority and without waiting for an election, commenced an action and obtained an order from the late Judge Barnard, of New York, suspending Mr. Ramsey from acting as President, with a view of obtaining the possession of the road before the time of the election of directors. The effect of the order was a virtual transfer of the road and property of the Company to Gould and Fisk, without giving the Company or Mr. Ramsey an opportunity to defend. The late Judge Peckham, of Albany, made another order modifying the order of Barnard, so as to give the defendants an opportunity of being heard. Judge Peckham's order was disregarded, and an attempt was made by Gould and Fisk to take possession of the road by force, and for that purpose Fisk appeared at Albany with men and attempted to enter and take possession of the office of the President and other offices of the Company, but was resisted and obliged to retreat. The plan of operation was then changed, and the Erie forces, comprising from 1,500 to 2,000 employees, from different parts of the Erie road, were ordered to take forcible possession of the road, commencing at the Binghamton end. This move on their part created intense excitement at Albany and along the line, and even extended throughout the State. Car loads of excited men volunteered to prevent the outrage, and a civil war was threatened. The forces met near the tunnel, seventeen miles from Binghamton, and Gould attempted to run an Erie locomotive to Albany with employees of the Erie to take possession of the depots along the road. He was prevented by Mr. Robert C. Blackall, master mechanic of the A. &S., and his men, and the Erie engine captured. The engine was sent to Albany and the Erie employees in charge were paroled by Mr. Blackall.

The forces on each side having congregated at and near the tunnel, were in a threatening attitude and liable to come in collision at any moment. At this time an arrangement was made to place the road and the property of the company in the hands of a receiver, and an action was commenced in the name of the people of the State by the Attorney-General to settle the question, by an election of directors by the stock-holders, and thus determine the rights of the parties to the possession of the road.

An election was held at the time of the annual meeting for that purpose, at the Company's office, in Albany, on the first Tuesday in September, 1870. Near the time for organizing the meeting and opening the polls, Mr. Ramsey, as President, and Mr. Phelps, as Treasurer and Secretary, were enjoined by another order of Judge Barnard from taking any part in the election. The Gould and Fisk party had in attendance a crowd of workmen and other persons, with a proxy of one share each to fill up the room and prevent the regular election from being held. In this they failed, the regular election was held, and the regular inspectors declared the Ramsey electors, as they were called, duly elected by those holding a decided majority of the stock. The Gould party also held an election, and claimed to have elected their ticket, headed by Walter Church, of Albany.

The place of trial in the action commenced by the Attorney-General, was in the Seventh Judicial District, the main issue being, which set of directors had been duly elected and entitled to the possession of the road. The case came on to be tried before Hon. E. Darwin Smith, on of the Supreme Court Judges, in the city of Rochester, in November of the same year. The trial continued over two weeks and the latter part of December following, Judge Smith decide in favor of the Ramsey directors, that their election was legal and valid, and that of the Church directors was illegal, fraudulent and void.

That decision restored the possession of the Ramsey directors and the Receiver, Robert Lenox Banks, was discharged, and they went into possession of the road again the first of January, 1871.

The difficulty created an uneasy state of feeling among the stockholders, and a fear of farther troubles, which led to a proposition n the part of the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company, to lease the road. The proposal was accepted and the lease was executed in March following by the Albany & Susquehanna Company, by which the stockholders of that Company were to receive seven per cent. in semi-annual dividends on their stock, and the Canal Company assume the payment of the principal and interest of the bonded debt of the leased road; the case being in effect, a sale of the road and its franchises to the Canal Company. Mr. Ramsey and others of the directors, would have preferred not to lease the road, but to have kept it, independent of any coal or other Company, dealing liberally with all of them, with a view of concentrating upon the line the largest amount of business, and having the people along the line reap the benefit of the competition among the different coal companies, instead of being controlled by one Company. The stock-holders were nearly, or quite unanimous in favor of the lease, and the road went into the control and possession of the Deleware & Hudson Canal Company, and has been operated by it since. After the lease, Mr. Coe F. Young, the general manager of the Canal Company, was elected President of the road, in place of Mr. Ramsey.

As a financial success up to the time of this writing, there are but few roads in the State that have been more fortunate. The stockholders have never been sold out. The towns that have sold their stock, realized a par value for it, and the stock is now quoted in New York, as high as thirty-five per cent. premium.

In the mean time, Mr. Ramsey was elected Vice-President of the Albany Iron Manufacturing Company, and after the death of Hon. Erastus Corning, was elected President in his stead, and remained in that position during the building of the furnaces belonging to the Company in Albany City, and after that resigned. He was also President of and assisted in the organization of the New York & Albany Railroad Company, and is President of the Howe's Cave Association, in the manufacture of cement, lime and brick. In public life, Mr. Ramsey was also nominated as a candidate for Congress in 1866, in the then Albany and Schoharie district. He received a majority of about eight hundred in Albany, and was defeated by a large majority against him in Schoharie.

He was a delegate from Albany to the Republican State Convention, in the years 1871, 1872 and 1873, and also a member of the Republican State Committee, and was most active in the proceedings to impeach Judge Barnard, who made the order in favor of Gould and Fisk, in the controversy referred to previously. For the orders in that case, and others of similar character, Judge Barnard was tried by the Senate and impeached, and prohibited from holding any office under the civil Government. He has since died.

Mr. Ramsey removed to Albany, in 1863, which was rendered necessary in consequence of his railroad duties, but usually spends the summer months at Howe's Cave, in Schoharie, and in several respects prefers to consider that his residence, as well as the County of his birth.


I was recently compiling some research on the infamous "battle" for the Albany & Susquehanna Railroad that took place in 1869. In doing so I came across your page on Joseph H. Ramsey. The page relates correctly that Jay Gould and Jim Fisk of the Erie Railroad began their attempt to take over the A&S from Ramsey in the summer of 1869. However the date of the important A&S share holder meeting was not as stated "the second Tuesday of September 1870," but rather September 7, 1869. Also, J. Pierpont Morgan, who was elected Vice President and Director of the A&S at that meeting, negotiated the the lease of the A&E to the Delaware and Hudson Canal co. the very next day (September 8, 1869) in order to put the A&S safely out of control of Gould and Fisk. The ensuing litigation around the A&E, and who would
actually control the road, was finally put to rest in December 1869 when the NY Supreme Court ruled in favor of J. H. Ramsey and recognized his board of directors over that of Gould and Fisk. The lease of the A&S to the D&H took effect February 24,1870.

Frank Giuseppini
January 2006

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