Friday, February 1, 2013

Simeon DeWitt

This small marble headstone marking the grave of Simeon DeWitt, who served as both Surveyor General of New York State and of the United States, sits in a little hollow just above the low path which runs along the south shoulder of the Middle Ridge. 

A native of Warswarsing, New York, Simeon DeWitt was educated at Queens College and served in the Revolutionary War, including at the Battle of Saratoga.  He would later describe the surrender of the British troops under General John Burgoyne as "the most glorious, grandest sight America ever held."  During the War, DeWitt also served as an assistant geographer to Robert Erkine, the U.S. Army's first surveyor.  When Erkine died in 1780, DeWitt was chosen by General Washington as his replacement.

In 1784, DeWitt was appointed Surveyor General of New York State, a post he would hold for over fifty years.  He would map almost the entire state, giving names to counties and towns established after the war.  At the same time, he settled in Albany and his 1790 map of the city is a valuable record of the city's early development and geological features long since lost to progress.  Many streets in Albany were given names by DeWitt which are still in use today;  among them are Elk, Beaver, Eagle, Hawk, Swan, Dove, Lark, Robin, Quail.

In 1794, DeWitt acquired land along Market Street (Broadway); the property included the ruins of Albany's first permanent European settlement, Fort Orange.  He built a brick home on the land and resided there until around 1810 when he relocated to Ithaca, one of the towns he'd named in Central New York.

He died in 1834 and was originally buried in Ithaca.  A decade later, his body was returned to Albany and reburied, first in the vault of the Middle Dutch Church and then, in 1854, to this quiet spot in the Rural Cemetery.  A metal marker from the Daughters of the American Revolution was added to the gravesite to recall his service.

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