By Mary Isabella Forsyth
1840 - 1914

From The Beginnings of New York published in 1909

The First State Capital

WHEN the Half Moon on its memorable voyage of discovery passed up what was later called Hudson's river, it came, we are told by its chronicler, "in view of other mountains which lay from the river's side." There were found " very loving people and very old men," by whom the newcomers were cordially welcomed and supplied with Indian corn, pumpkins, and tobacco. The description of the locality might apply either to Kingston or Catskill. But as the Catskills are first sighted at the mouth of the Rondout, and as it was there that in 1610 a trading post was established, it seems probable that this was the place where the Half Moon came to anchor, as stated, and thus brought what is now Kingston to the notice of both Dutch and English as a location especially fitted for trade with friendly Indians.

In 1652 a permanent settlement was made. A large proportion of the early settlers were Hollanders who stamped indelibly upon the colony the impress of the Dutch. They, as was their custom, bought their lands from the Indians, and lived upon their scattered farms for four years without any serious difficulty with the earlier owners of the soil. Thomas Chambers, the first English settler, had received a large grant of rich land in the valley of the Esopus, still exceptionally fertile.

The whole region was then known as "The Esopus," a name that clung to the village of Kingston for nearly two centuries. It was named Kingston when the colony came under the control of the British government.

It seems clear from official papers as well as from stories and traditions handed down through generations that there might never have been any serious difficulties there between the whites and the red men had the former left their "firewater " on the other side of the Atlantic. An incident that occurred in 1658 emphasizes this. A party of settlers were playing tennis at the "tennis court" in "Esopus," some Indians looking on with interest. An "anchor " of brandy was discovered conveniently placed at the foot of a tree. The Indians enjoyed it, as did the others, but with a different result. They became wildly intoxicated, fired upon a yacht, and killed a man. The settlers, excessively alarmed, besought the aid and protection of Governor Stuyvesant. In their application to the governor they stated, to show the importance of the place, that they had "sixty or seventy people who support a reader at their own expense." The reader thus alluded to was the vorrleser or layreader, and "comforter of the sick," who at or before this period had conducted church services. Strange to say, he was ancestor of the present pastor, and bore the same family name. Van Slyke, or Vander Sluys.

The governor, with an escort of sixty or more arrived at Esopus in May. "The next day being Ascension Day, he notified the people to meet him after service in the afternoon." On the following day he held a council with about fifty braves. One of the chiefs arose and with dignity responded to the charges brought against the Indians, their insolence, cruelty, murders, etc. The"Shawanakins," i.e. Europeans, "sold our children drink, and they were thus the cause of the Indians being made crazy, which was the cause of all the mischief." Indeed, a pathetic appeal was eventually sent to the governor, urging him to compel the traders at Fort Orange to atop selling liquor to the young braves, with a solemn warning of the results inevitable should this request be disregarded, results from which the nation suffers today.

At this conference, however, peace was concluded. The governor advised the settlers to move from their outlying farms and form into a village protected by a stockade, and to purchase from the Indians a site for such village. The Indians asked the privilege of giving the land as a token of amity. This offer was accepted, and the governor named the village in recognition of the gift and the givers "Wiltwyck " or "Wild Man's Town." The lines of the stockade are still shown, marked at one point by a house that stood at the hornwork at an angle of the fortification. This house built by Martinus Hoffman was for many generations the home of the family, from which was descended the late Dean Hoffman.

Distrust, once begun, continued,- fomented as we all know by many provocations on the part of the whites, until in 1663 both Wiltwyck and Hurley, a village three miles distant, then known as the "Nieu Dorp" were burned by the savages.(June 7th, 1663 begginning the Second Esopus War)

Another council, held at or near what is now the Academy green, resulted in the burial of the hatchet, and the gift from the Indians of a wampum belt still preserved in the County Clerk's office. This brought permanent peace, just as the first struggle for supremacy had begun between the Dutch and English.

It is interesting to note the similarities and differences between two settlements of Hollanders at about the same date, 1652, one at Kingston, the other in South Africa. Both received reinforcements of Huguenots who added a certain sparkle and grace to the sturdy makeup of the Dutch. Both colonies were devoted to the creed and mode of worship of the Reformed Dutch Church, to the language and customs of Holland, and to the ideas of civil and religious liberty for which their forefathers had fought with unexampled tenacity, suffering, and heroism.

On the other hand, great differences of climate, of environment, of opportunity, the extreme remoteness of the one colony, the isolation of its families, are all most marked. But the spirit was the same, and it flashed into flame in old Kingston at the time of the Revolution as later in the Transvaal.

Intermarriages modified noticeably the temperament of the people of Kingston. While Hollanders and Huguenots were the prevailing nationalities represented there, settlers from other countries came from time to time, as the place grew in importance. For instance, the first Bruyn came, as is stated in the Hasbrouck family record, from Norway. He married Gertruyd Esselsteyn, a Hollander. His granddaughter married Abraham Hasbrouck, of French Huguenot ancestry. In the next generation, a Hasbrouck married a Wynkoop, of mingled Dutch and German-Moravian descent.

Petrus Edmundus Elmendorf, whose name tells its nationality, married Mary Crooke. The Crookes had brought with them from England their ancestral silver, engraved with the family coat of arms, and their love for the Church of England. The grandfather of the " Mollie " Crooke just alluded to was one of the founders of Trinity Church in New York City. He too had married a Hollander, Gertrude de Haas, and his son John, who settled in Esopus, and was one of the first lawyers there, also county clerk, married Katrina Jans. All these varied strains of blood, Norwegian, Dutch, French, English, and German, with later admixtures, are blended today in the veins of one family in old Kingston.

The Dutch Church, true to its history and traditions, united all these varied elements into a harmonious whole. It also received as a communicant the first Roman Catholic resident of Kingston, and a Baptist whose scruples were set at rest by his being immersed in the Esopus creek by the "Dominie " of the old church. It became the center of life for the settlement. Its close affiliations with Holland are shown by the fact that not only was its quaint silver communion beaker sent, in1683, "as a token of love and friendship" from the church at Amsterdam to the church at Kingston, but the bell, too, came from Amsterdam, and all the early ministers were sent out from the mother country. The use of the Dutch language in the church services continued until 1808. As a result, one of the young members of the congregation whose family did not speak the Holland tongue asked who was that noted woman whose name she so often heard mentioned in the sermons, "Hetty Van Halium." The explanation was, that the words she had thus understood were "Het evangelium," "the gospel."

The Dutch language continued to be in use in many families until the middle of the last century. Even now it is familiar to some of the generation fast passing away.

The beautiful old stone church burned by the British in 1777 had the baptistry in front of the main edifice. The ancient baptismal record gives the name of Jan Roosevelt, an ancestor of Ex-President Roosevelt. Perhaps it was due to the strong influence of the old church - the only one in Kingston for about a century and a half - that the people of the town maintained friendly personal relations, even while of very different social standing. The owner of the first carriage in Kingston sent it all about the village on Sunday mornings to bring to church the aged and infirm, the result being, sometimes, that she herself would arrive after the appointed hour. But this was of little consequence, as the Dominie awaited her arrival to begin the service!

Another dignified dame who often repeated to her grandchildren the war cry of her French ancestral house, -the cry that had rung out among the ranks of the crusaders,- would sit patiently entertaining in her handsome parlor some plain, un-pretending guest, perhaps an old colored woman formerly a slave in the family, showing to each one unfailing courtesy and kindness.

The old village was linked in many ways to the life of the outside world, especially in the case of those who had the advantages of culture, books, and social position.

There are in private libraries valuable books in English, Dutch, French, and Latin that have come down from generation to generation.

The old secretaries contain interesting letters written to Esopus by friends and kindred at Albany, New York, the headquarters of General Washington, and from beyond seas. As the inns were not thought worthy to provide for the comfort of distinguished guests, they were usually entertained at the homes of the leading families. Among letters written by such guests to Mrs. Mary Crooke Elmendorf are some from Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, French Consul General, and from Governor Sir Henry More.

One of the daughters of this Mrs. Elmendorf married Rutger Bleeker, of Albany, another Cornelius Ray, of New York, and a third Lieutenant Colonel Bruyn, of Kingston, to whom she had been betrothed all through his heroic career in the Continental Army, which closed by his capture at Fort Montgomery and his imprisonment on the horrible Jersey, the prison ship.

Letters from these sisters are exceedingly interesting, with their vivid pictures of colonial life and of the stirring times of the Revolution.

Besides intercourse of this kind with the larger places, prominent men of Kingston took part in public affairs, coming and going as members of the Colonial assemblies or later of the Provincial Congress, or as officers in the Colonial service and the Continental Army. Colonel Abraham Hasbrouck, besides being colonel of a regiment, was for thirty years member of the Colonial Assembly, subsequently of the State Assembly.

Generals George and James Clinton both lived in Kingston. There too lived Christopher Tappen, the well-known patriot and statesman, whose family, when the town was fired by British troops, sacrificed their own valuable papers to save those of the state.

Near by, at Hurley, were the homes of Col. Cornelius D. Wynkoop and Col. Charles DeWitt, whose services both in the army and as legislator showed him worthy of the ancestor who had suffered martyrdom at the Hague.

Gilbert Livingston, a son of the original patroon, was a resident of Kingston. He was the first person in the state to manumit his slaves. His name is found on one of the gravestones in the old churchyard.

DeWall, a Hollander, had a large house used for assemblies, which brought together for social intercourse the gentry from many quarters. Full dress was a requisite for these state occasions. This house, like many others of the same period, is still standing, rebuilt on the ruins left when the town was burned by the British in 1777.

The old house built in 1676 by Wessel Tenbroeck, where the first state senate met, is now a museum owned by the state.

Another interesting building is the old academy, founded 1774, one of the first to promote the higher education. Many of the scholars came from other parts of the state - and it sent out to the world a large number of prominent men - Edward Livingston, Stephen Van Rensselaer, Abraham Van Vechten, DeWitt Clinton, Rev. Thomas DeWitt, D.D., long a revered minister of the Collegiate Church of New York City, who was born near Kingston, Vanderlyn, the noted artist, and many others distinguished in various ways.

One cannot walk through the streets of Kingston without feeling the force of its past. The families that have lived there, as many have done, since the founding of what has been called "a town of homes," show a certain simplicity of character and of life that has come down from other generations and makes them distinctive. They are old-fashioned people and do not hesitate to avow it. They belong among the quaint buildings, the antique furniture, the crumbling gravestones, the many memorials of Colonial days. Great as have been the changes that have transformed the quiet village into a rapidly growing city, with modern villas and lines of electric railroad, there is enough of the old spirit remaining to cause the inhabitants to take pride in calling their town "The Colonial City."

When the struggle for independence began it was inevitable that Kingston should be - as it was designated by General Vaughan -"a nest of rebels." An article in the Philadelphia Evening Post during the Boer war drew a sharp contrast between the patriotism of the American colonists at that epoch, and that of the Transvaal in their fight for freedom-showing that while we gave only a moderate percentage of our men for the actual conflict the Boers gave all. The statement is probably true of the colonies as a whole, since so many who still claimed England as the mother country felt it impossible to forego allegiance to her. But it was far otherwise at Kingston and its vicinity. There, the descendants of those who had pierced the dykes at Leyden, and left their homes in France to escape the dragonnade and the galley, sprang as one man to support the patriot cause. It is a remarkable thing to read the lists of those who signed the articles of association pledging themselves to stand by the action of the Continental Congress. They are called, as they well may be, the "Ulster County Roll of Honor." Four signed it as members of the Provincial Congress; these were James Clinton, Christopher Tappen, Jacob Hornbeck, and Egbert DuMond.

The large number of signatures from Kingston and adjacent towns justify the statements handed down from earlier generations that every able-bodied man was in the patriot army.

One house alone, on the outskirts of the town, is known as the residence of a Tory,- and he was a New Yorker.

Kingston then-New York being in the possession of the British-was the natural place for the promotion of all that tended to foster the first impulse towards independence. There great statesmen gathered, framed the State Constitution, convened in the first Assembly and Senate of the new state. Thither sped General Clinton to take the oath of office as the first governor, hastening back immediately to his command.

So it came about, as a sudden and brutal retaliation, that the brave old town was fired by British troops on October 16, 1777. Only one house within the limits of the village was left habitable and its defenceless women and children fled for refuge to Hurley and the surrounding region.

The struggle might well have seemed then hopeless, humanly speaking. But the faith that formed a vital part of the inheritance of these people carried the day, and the feeling of all was;

Not a man will blench nor falter,
Not a woman's heart will fail,
Since our God is fighting with us,
Never can your arms prevail!

It is our privilege to cherish and maintain the noblest principles of the early colonists. To do this effectually we must also cherish the sublime faith upon which these principles were based. What is the real reason why we as a nation lead the world today? Is it solely because of our vast material resources, or the peculiar fitness of our form of government to draw hither and amalgamate into one the enterprising, the restless, the dissatisfied of other lands?

Is it not rather, or chiefly, because we are the custodians of the ideals of the race? While much may perish in the sweep of events, these remain and will ever remain because inspired from above. And it is these ideals that those who are Americans by inheritance are to uphold and pass on as an incentive to high endeavor to the men and women of today. Listening to the solemn voice of a great past, - the story of our forefathers, we are "to do the work that they laid down. Take up the song where they broke off the strain” and send it ringing as a trumpet call through the new century.


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