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.




2 comments:

  1. Nice to see a photo of her headstone. An article touching on her and her writing:

    Broderick, Warren. "Fiction Based on 'Well-Authenticated Facts': Documenting the Birth of the American Novel." Hudson River Valley Review 4(2). September 1987. 1-37. http://www.hudsonrivervalley.org/review/pdfs/hvrr_4pt2_broderick.pdf

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  2. Glad my Instagram account helped you to find her grave! I'm a PhD student at Rutgers University and am writing part of my dissertation on her. I just recently taught her in my early American women writers class and they all thoroughly enjoyed her (more than half the class wrote their final paper on her)! She's a fascinating but an often forgotten early US writer and I wish there was some way to restore her grave.
    -Michael

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