Saturday, June 27, 2015

Ann Eliza Bleecker


The headstone of Ann Eliza Bleecker in the Dutch Reformed section of the Church Grounds is nearly illegible.  One can just make out the name carved in the worn marble and it gives little detail about the life of this early American poet and novelist.

The daughter of Brandt and Margaretta Schuyler, Ann Eliza was born in 1752.  She grew up in a wealthy family and was well educated.  From an early age, she showed a very strong interest in literature and frequently wrote verses.  She did not write for publication, but would often send her verses to family and close friends.

In 1769, she married John James Bleecker, Esq. of New Rochelle and moved to Poughkeepsie.  A few years later, the couple settled on a farm near the Tomhannock Creek in Schaghticoke.  At "Tomhanick," Bleecker had built a comfortable house on a "little eminence" with a "pleasing prospect."  The house had a beautiful garden with a view of the Creek, an orchard at the edge of the forest, and was surrounded by meadows and cultivated fields.  Beyond the house was, as Ann Eliza described it, "the ample shadow of that solemn ridge of pine."  Young Mrs. Bleecker loved her garden and would gather seeds from her plants to scatter along the brook and in the woods.

The Bleeckers had two young daughters, Margaretta and Abella, and what seems to have been an almost idyllic life until the summer of 1777 when the Revolutionary War came dangerously close to home.  With rumors of British soldiers and their Loyalist and Native allies advancing towards the area and the memory of the 1711 Schaghticoke Massacre still reasonably fresh in the minds of their neighbors, John Bleecker went to Albany to arrange the evacuation of his family.

Not long after her husband left, frightened by an inaccurate report that a raiding party was within two miles of the village, Ann Eliza took her two young daughters and a mulatto servant girl and fled (on foot and by wagon) south to Lansingburgh. Her husband met her there and took her to Red Hook in Dutchess Coutny where she joined her mother and sister.  Unfortunately, her infant daughter Abella died of illness during the flight and, not long after, Ann Eliza's mother and sister also died.

After the British were defeated at Saratoga, the Bleeckers returned to Tomhanick.  In 1781, John Bleecker was abducted by what may have been a Loyalist party.  He was realized a week later at Bennington, but Ann Eliza, pregnant and still devastated by the death of her mother, sister, and daughter, suffered a miscarriage.  She never truly recovered from the trauma of the war and her personal losses; her daughter, Margaretta, would later describe her as often alternating between gaiety and good humor and bouts of melancholy during which she would burns writings that did not reflect her dark mood. 

Ann Eliza Bleecker's health failed and she died at the age of thirty-two on November 23, 1783.  She was buried in the Dutch Reformed Church's graveyard, then located on Beaver Street just east of South Pearl Street.  Eventually, her grave was moved to the State Street Burying Grounds and, ultimately, the Church Grounds at the Rural Cemetery.  The headstone does not mark her exact grave site;  over the years, the old markers have been moved, stacked, and rearranged so that they do not actually correspond to individual graves.

Ann Eliza Bleecker never published her writings during her life time.  After her death, her daughter, Margaretta Van Wyck Faugeres, collected and published the surviving manuscripts. 

Her works included The History of Maria Kittle, an early Gothic novel and captivity narrative.  It is a graphic story, based in part of the 1711 Schaghticoke Massacre and her own fears during the war, which was told in the form of letters.  In a similar vein, she also wrote a story based on a gruesome murder near Pittstown in which James Yates murder his wife, four children (from inant to 6) along with all of his livestock).  The disoriented Yates then appeared naked at his parents home saying he believed he had been killing hostile Indians.  In a posthumously published article attributed to Ann Eliza, it was reported that Yates was interrogated in the Bleecker's Schaghticoke home before being transported to the Albany jail. 

The published works also included a number of poems, many describing her pleasant pre-war life at Tomhanick as well as the more tragic and frightening experiences of the Revolution (such as Written in retreat from Burgoyne)  These poems were published along with various essays and miscellaneous works.  The complete volume can be found online here.




Friday, June 19, 2015

Cretia Jackson


 There are two Boyd family lots near the western terminus of the Middle Ridge;  the lot of James and Peter Boyd marked with a large, simple marble obelisk and the lot of Robert Boyd is marked with a towering and elaborate monument which features a sarcophagus, a winged hourglass, and heavy lions' feet. 

In the latter lot, in the shadow of that elaborate memorial, there is a marble headstone with the following inscription:

Cretia Jackson died April 4, 1855.  For more than fifty years, a most faithful and respected servant of the family.

Her burial record indicates the Cretia (which was short for Lucretia) died of congestion of the lungs at the age of fifty-seven, meaning she would have started her service to the Boyd family while still a child.  Records such as the 1800 census show that members of the Boyd family owned slaves and she may have been the daughter of one of these slaves.  She was born during New York's gradual emancipation;  the law at the time of her birth granted freedom to children born after 1799, but they were to serve an indenture until they came of age.  This would explain why she would have served the family from the young age of seven.

She appears in the 1850 census as "mulatto."  Her name doesn't appear in previous census years. 

Cretia is one of several servants interred in the plots of the families which they worked for, ranging from a faithful slave of the Quackenbush family to the Swiss-born butler of the Barnes family.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Margaret Carman


A small marble headstone on the Middle Ridge marks the grave of Margaret, wife of Theodore Carman.  She died on April 27, 1839 at the age of 28.  Her headstone has the image of a broken column (typically a symbol of an early death) which is draped with a heavy veil or shroud.

Theodore Carman is also interred in this lot; he died on December 26, 1856 at the age of 45.  He was a shoemaker at 24 Norton Street in Albany.  The deed to this lot was in the name of Olivia (also spelled Olevia) Carman who died on January 18, 1864 at the age of 53.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Narcisse Remond


This tall marble monument (usually half-hidden by one of the Cemetery's magnolia trees) marks the grave of the Narcisse Remond, proprietor of The Marble Pillar.  The Marble Pillar was located in the basement of a building by the same name which stood at the northwest corner of State Street and Broadway.  At various times, the stately building also housed a museum, telegraph office, and was a departure point for various stagecoaches and other forms of transportation.  A contemporary newspaper remarked that soup or steaks done in Remond's style was "a luxury."


Remond's burial records give very little biographical information except that he died on December 29, 1855 at the age of 43 years, 2 months, and 15 days.  The worn inscription on the gravestone itself notes that he was born in France and "came to this country in 1833 and took his abode in Albany."  The burial record of his wife, Mary Josephine Remond, indicates that she was born in Versailles.


The monument is not original to the lot.  Remond was originally interred in a vault as mentioned in several early books on the Cemetery and that fact is still reflected on his wife's burial card.  During the 1870s, the Cemetery's Superintendent Jeffrey P. Thomas, strongly encouraged the owners of vaults in poor condition or whose design was not considered in keeping with the natural style of a rural cemetery to have those structures removed and replaced with more suitable memorials.  The Remond vault was removed around this time. Mary Josephine Remond had passed away in 1872 at the age of 57.  At the time of her death, she was living in Brooklyn at 174 Monroe Street.


One interesting detail of the Remond gravestone is the elaborate Masonic symbol carved on the upper portion.  In addition to the compass and builders square found on many Masonic graves around the Rural, it also includes an arch with a prominent keystone and a worn relief of the Ark of The Covenant atop the steps on which the arch stands.  This elaborate symbol is associated with the Royal Arch Masons, part of the York Rite.


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Francis B. Dwight


Set atop a South Ridge hill that drops steeply down towards Consecration Lake, this circular lot is among the Rural's oldest plots.  Surrounded by what appears to be its original iron fence, it contains a massive tree and a single gravestone.  The upper part of the hill where it stands was originally called Mildand Hill on early maps of the grounds and the lower part was called Mount Formosa.  As the Cemetery expanded and the maps changed, the area was renamed Oakwood Forest Hill and then Roseland Hill.  Now it is simply Lot 1, Section 11.

The lot is a little tricky to enter from the front (the far side in the photo above) as the ground drops off steeply above the path and whatever steps may have once accessed the lot are gone.  However, there is an opening in the fence at the rear of the lot.  Reading and photographing the sole slab-style headstone is made difficult by the fact that it lies at the very front edge of the lot and there is only room to stand behind or beside it.  Still, enough of the inscription can be read to identify two of the occupants of this old and scenic burial place as Francis B. and Catherine Dwight. 

Francis B. Dwight was born in Springfield, Massachusetts on March 14, 1808.  He was the eight of twelve children born to James Scutt Dwight and Mary Sanford Dwight.  He entered Harvard at sixteen and, after graduation, spent a couple of years touring Europe before studying law.  He practiced in Massachusetts and the Michigan Territory before settling in New York State.  On July 24, 1834, he married Catherine Van Rensselaer Schermerhorn.  The first Mrs. Dwight died sometime prior to 1843 since, on April 20 of that year, he married Catherine Waters Yates.

He moved to Albany in 1840 and, with encouragement from John Canfield Spencer, the New York Secretary of State, Dwight began publication of The District School Journal For The State of New York.  Though he was urged to enter politics, he preferred to "devote his life and talents to the great cause of popular education."  He was named superintendent of schools for the city and county of Albany and, on June 1, 1844, was unanimously nominated to the executive committee "for the care, government, and management of the Normal School."  The institution would evolve into the University At Albany, part of the State University of New York.

View of the State Normal School on the north side of State Street just below Eagle Street.  Courtesy of @AlbanyMuskrat on Twitter.

City directories show Francis B. Dwight as a resident of 1 Clinton Park (now Clinton Square).  While much of this block survives, his house has been demolished.

Described by one newspaper as "the most accomplished advocate of popular education" and a "pioneer" in the establishment of the Normal School, Francis Dwight died on December 15, 1845.  He was only thirty-seven years old.  His death, according to the Albany Argus, was caused by a serious inflammation of the bowels.  He was greatly and sincerely mourned by his friends and colleagues.

Francis and his first wife share a headstone.  It is a large slab laid flush to the ground near the entrance to the plot.  A simple carved cross surmounts their names.


Francis' second wife survived him and remarried as she is listed in the Cemetery records as Catherine W. Graham.  She was, however, interred with Francis in this lot after her death on April 4, 1879.  At the time of her death, she was a resident of 168 West 47th Street in New York City.  She was sixty-six years old.  


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A Sweet Surprise


As mentioned in a previous post, the Rural Cemetery has been full of surprises this spring.  As I stopped to take a picture on the North Ridge near the Kreuder monument, I noticed something different set against the trees at the edge of the ravine.

From a distance, it was actually difficult to tell just what was set atop this tall monument.  At first, it appeared to be a large bird, but it was too still and lacked the coloring of the hawks which are fairly common here.  It might have been a simple draped urn or even a statue.  Upon a closer look, it turned out to be the latter.

It's located not too far from the Hallenbake lot and the little headstones of the Prentice daughters.  It was also mentioned in Henry Churchill's 1858 Guide Through The Rural Cemetery.  Yet, somehow, I'd never seen it before.  Perhaps because, the last time I was close to it, I was limping along with a cane and, on previous wanderings, I was too busy picking my way down the marble steps that lead from the Hallenbake enclosure to the old, narrow path that runs along the north shoulder of the ravine.

One reason it's easy to miss is because it was meant to be seen from that path, identified on older maps as Dell Side Avenue.  It faces the ravine and, when the old bridges which linked the North, Middle, and South Ridges, there would have been several scenic approaches to this lot.  From the lot, there would have been a lovely view of the Kromme Kill and Indian Lake.


The little statue atop the monument turned out to be quite familiar.  I've seen examples of this kneeling child before.  There is a similar one in Schenectady's Vale Cemetery and other copies appear in burial grounds around the country.  A similar figure also appears as a stock image in old advertisements for stonecutters such as William Manson and James Gazeley

A check of burial records shows that this is the Anderson family monument and there's the sweet aspect;  the Andersons were in the candy business.  A city directory from 1848 lists George Anderson as a "Plain and Ornamental Confectioner" at the corner of Broadway and Lydius Street (now Madison Avenue).  The advertisement offers various sweet goods such as ice cream, jellies, cakes, and pastries.  A few years later, the 1853 directory featured a full page advertisement for Anderson & Wright, a well-stocked candy "manufactory" and soda foundation.

George Anderson was born in England around 1818.  His burial records state he died of consumption on March 11, 1856.  His widow, Sarah, was born in Berne, New York in 1820.  She passed away on Christmas Eve, 1879.  About a dozen other family members are interred around this lot, including George's siblings, Charles and Mary Anderson.  Charles and Mary both died of consumption within days of each other;  thirty-five year Charles on March 8, 1844 and twenty-nine year old Mary on March 14, 1844 died on March 8, 1844.  The Rural Cemetery had not yet been consecrated so Charles and Mary were temporarily interred at the State Street Burying Grounds as their burial records indicate that they were "removed from Albany" to this lot.
 The ad above is borrowed from the Albany...The Way It Was image collection on Flick.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Catharine Ann Van Benthuysen


This stone on the North Ridge is beautifully detailed;  elegant and Gothic, it features a rose and a tulip on either side of a niche framing a worn figure of an angel.

It marks the grave of a Catharine Van Benthuysen who died on August 23, 1854.  It does not give her age or date of birth.  The lower part of the stone might contain additional information or an epitaph, but the slab has broken off its base and the bottom portion is obscured now.  The burial records on file indicate she was twenty-three at the time of her death.

Census records for 1850 show a sixteen-year old Catharine A. Van Benthuysen, the daughter of Watervliet farmer Volkert Van Benthuysen and his wife, Dorcas.  Catharine's parents are also buried in the plot, as well as Ida, a two-year old sister who died just a month after Catharine.