Local History Sketches Clarence E. Holden. CCXXXV David Wilson, Poet

In Dr. Hall’s book of his friends to which we have before referred there is a caricature of David Wilson with some verses written by Robert Turner. We are tempted to copy all verses, but will content ourselves with the last stanza:
Wake up, wake up the melodies
That with thy spirit dwell;
Nor let their music only through
Our northern valleys swell.
Thy soul grants inspiration, and
Thy heart can guide the pen,
To give thee glorious station there
Among thy fellow men.

At the new year of 1844 he published a poem which contains many fine passages. He had recently been married to a beautiful young lady. In his poem he writes:

I lay it down that love’s omnipotent,
And that the question is beyond dispute —
and he goes on to prove it by the example of several of his friends, including Hitchcock, Jones, Alden, Lemon, Davis, House and others. Then presently he drops into sadder ket:
Perchance someone whose name is herein spoken,
Before there comes another new year’s day,
Will pass with brow all pale and spirit broken,
Down death’s dread vale to darkness and decay.
Little did he suppose that his own young bride was destined within a few short months to pass into that “dread vale,” but she died the following June, aged 20 years. Soon he assumes a more cheerful tone, and opines
Such mournful thoughts like these do ill beseem,
A merry printer’s devil such as I.
In his newspaper articles he generally signed him The Printer’s Devil.
In another little poem he strikes a lighter strain:
As the great world goes jostling by.
‘Tis better far to laugh than cry.
At another time he places his friends, all by name, remember, in the nether regions
and gibes them unmercifully.
Yes, there great Potter heaves the woeful sigh
For all the naughty deeds that he has done.
And this of John H. Boyd:
And Boyd, no more, to see poor devils bored
Will sit and quiz them in that way of his,
The Lord be praised, himself will then be floored,
A change will come over his mischievous phiz.
He does not spare himself, Witness;
And a long train of broken Sabbath days
That should have been in lowly worship passed,
Will call to Wilson’s mind his evil ways
It seemed the proper thing, even then, to take a fling at the poor old board of trustees. In one of his sarcastic poems Wilson compares Canal Street with the Appian Way, and mourns:
Oh, would ‘twere true that here at home
We had trustees like those who once
Took care of ancient Rome.
And yet he insists;
I ‘m not inclined to personalities,
For that would be undoubtedly uncivil,
And the idea of kicking up a breeze
Would not become a modest printer’s devil

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Transcript of a letter to Mrs. Morton from L. R. Lewis, Attorney at Law, Hudson Falls, N. Y. – March 29, 1962

Dear Mrs. Morton:                                                                                                    Re: David Wilson

You surely have taken a lot of pains concerning the answer of my query. I wonder where you found this material.

I notice that Mr. Holden does not seem to be too favorably impressed with his historical accuracy except possibly as to the “Jane McCrea”. On rereading the “Solomon Northup” book, of course I do not know about its accuracy except that the legal procedure part of it seems to be precise and is corroborated by the New York Times story of the 20th of January 1853 reporting the case in District of Columbia Court of the 18th of January. This leaves an opportunity for Wilson to build up an imagined story as to the alleged facts which did not directly come into court.

A sort of shadow seems to hang over the story, as witness the gossip of neighbors that Solomon got himself kidnapped. This, to me, seems unthinkable because of Henry B. Northup’s interest in the case and the procedure he followed to obtain Solomon’s freedom as reported in the book and corroborated by the Times of the time. But it seems, too, that neighbors hereabouts accounted for Solomon’s subsequent disappearance in the same way. I have not taken time as apparently you have to follow this matter out but it is interesting that Mr. Holden indicates that Solomon Northup at one time lived in Whitehall.

Wilson’s letter of the 60s, copy of which you sent me before, and this Northup book show me how far away even I am from fresh understanding of the horrible things slavery and the Civil War were. When I first read the copy of the Wilson letter which you sent me I thought how outstandingly bitter and vindictive he was with respect to the South but then I reflected that that probably was what the war was fought on and it made Lincoln’s spirit of appeasement at the end stand out.

L. R. Lewis

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Transcript of a letter to Mrs. Morton from L. R. Lewis, Attorney at Law, Hudson Falls, N. Y. – November 8, 1961

Dear Mrs. Morton:
I am much interested in Henry B. Northup, a lawyer of Sandy Hill who represented Joseph S. Brown, negro preacher and missionary to Liberia, in his action against Brown’s “presiding elder” in Liberia, for what we would now call libel, slander, and/or defamation
of character. Brown could get no redress under church law because they would not listen to a black man, and Henry B. Northup, who himself was a Methodist on the Building
Committee of the church building operation in 1841 and later a Trustee of the church, went to bat for Brown in our civil courts, and so effectively that the elder admitted the inaccuracy of his story and paid $150.00 damages. This ended in 1848. Late in 1852 Henry B. Northup got a commission from the then Governor Hunt of New York State, and went into Louisiana to retrieve a free negro by the name of Solomon Northup who had been kidnapped and sold into, slavery in 1841. This latter book was edited by one David Wilson.

Wilson wrote the story of the life of Jane McCrea which was published in 1853. I think he had to do with “Brown’s Journal” which is the story of the Negro preacher’s experiences leading up to his efforts in Liberia and concluding with the conclusion of the civil action. Wilson, according to Stone’s History of Washington County, was from Sandy Hill, was a lawyer who went to Whitehall, and, as you know, he wrote the piece of fiction serially later published by Inglee and Tefft, I believe in about 1900.

I should like to know what I can about Wilson bearing on his credibility, particularly as to the Jane McCrea story, his possible connection with Henry B. Northup (I think perhaps he studied in the latter’s office), and his relationship to the Brown story, particularly to “Brown’s Journal”.

If you are familiar with the Solomon Northup book which is told in the first person but edited by Wilson, I think you will know that in some areas it was taken less than seriously. I have recently had an interesting experience in undertaking to check on this.

The book refers to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. I got the “Key” from the State Library. This refers to the criminal trial in Washington, D. C. instituted by Henry B. Northup on his and Solomon’s return from Louisiana on the 18th of January, 1853, in an effort to procure the conviction of the kidnaper. They were unsuccessful in this effort because the kidnaper perjured himself and procured perjured testimony as to Solomon’s identity and Solomon, although indisputably a free citizen of New York was not permitted to testify because he was a Negro. From the State Library I later obtained access to this issue of the Times and to that of the 20th of January which gave three columns of the first page to this kidnapping case. This, of course, was as of a time before David Wilson had access to the story, and I think pretty well verifies the Solomon Northup book.
I wrote to Mrs. Lonergan. She tried to help me, but suggested that you might be able to give more help.

I shall be very grateful for any assistance you can give.

Sincerely, L.R. Lewis

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Title Unknown [October 7, 1971]

The historical heritage of a town and a village is not, nor should it be, in the hands of one person or single group of people. Pride in one’s native folklore and historical fact is an inherent characteristic. To strengthen this characteristic state governments have made a local history unit obligatory in the school curriculum. Early enough to develop youthful interest in one’s community and late enough to insure an understanding of local events in relation to national and world history.

Whitehall has such a rich heritage — a French and Indian fort, the events of the wars of the Revolution and 1812, lake boat days, canal era, railroad period, industrial rises and declines, a melting pot of nationalities with their rich backgrounds. People themselves are a part of our heritage. There have been sailors and soldiers, senators, representatives, judges, and countless others who have gone out from Whitehall to “make good” In the outside world – – and of these so many whose pride In Whitehall has called them back in retirement or visitation. With the coming national bicentennial it is natural to stress Whitehall as the Birthplace of the United States Navy. The Town and Village Planning Boards included this part of Whitehall’s history in its plans for the restoration of the 1775- 1776 shipyard.

Too big an undertaking? No. Remember the 1959 celebration – – that successful event made possible by the cooperation of the whole citizenry? It can be done again and on a larger scale. The slide program “Whitehall — Birthplace of the United States Navy,” offered to organizations last year, has even produced a bank account of $25 in the name of Whitehall’s Bicentennial; small, yes, but it can grow.

You have read the Planning Boards’ letter sent out to organizations asking for an expression of interest in these bicentennial plans. Whether Whitehall will have the services of the State Office of Planning Coordination for a pioneer project of feasibility will depend on the attitude of Whitehall’s citizens. Here is an opportunity for individuals to show concern for, an important development in Whitehall’s future — for her historical and tourist attractions will have much to do with her development. Put your support in writing and later into action for our country’s bicentennial and Whitehall’s benefit.

Doris B. Morton, Town Historian – The Whitehall Times
– October 7, 1971

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Railroads 1848 – 1915

An interesting bit of railroad history was related when 1915 Eli S. Terry “Ted”
received notice in the Albany Press for his Forty Year Medal as an engineer.

Mr. Terry began railroad work in 1848 at 12 years of age. His job was to ride
horseback from the station to Death Rock to see if the Champlain Steamboat was
approaching, using field glasses. He would ride to the biggest top of the mountain and
wigwag his information to the station. If the boat was not too belated the train would be
held. If it was, the passengers would have to wait in Whitehall until another southbound
train left the station.

Doris B. Morton, Town Historian – The Whitehall Times – July 2, 1987

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A Will of 1839

When high school students study the works of Shakespeare they tend to be
hilarious when they learn that a feather bed was a prized possession to be willed to a
wife. They do not know how many goose feathers are needed to make a bed or the
softness or the warmth it has in cold houses, or that people in northern Europe still sleep
between pads of these feathers. These feather beds were made into pillows, which have
also mainly disappeared. The young folks cannot understand the pleasure a housewife
had when her feather beds were high and perfectly smooth after being fluffed up and

This will shows that a feather bed’s worth lasted a long time, even into the 20th

I, William Orr, of the Town of Whitehall, County of Washington , being of sound
mind and body do make and publish this my last will and testament, in manner following:

Item. I will that my just debts be paid.

I will and bequeath to my son, William Henry, all my real estate subject to the
payment of the sum of one hundred dollars to Eliza Ann, daughter of my brother
Solomon, when by son shall be at the age of twenty one years, but without interest.

Item. I give and bequeath to my daughter, Eliza Jane, the sum of two hundred
dollars and one good feather bed to be paid to her when she arrives at the age of twenty
one years by my said son, William Henry, but if my said daughter should not live to be
twenty one then in that event, my said son is to be freed from paying the said sum of two
hundred dollars. The said feather bed and the devise of two hundred do Hard is hereby
made a charge upon my real estate devised to my said son.

Item. My will and desire is that my wife should continue to reside upon and occupy
such part of my real estate as may be necessary for her and my children schooled and
brought up in a good and decent way.

Lastly, I do hereby nominate and appoint – John Kirtland of Whitehall and my wife
Catherine executrix of this my last will and testament.

This will was subscribed and witnessed by Jesse R. Billings and Israel Howe
May 11, 1839.

This William and Solomon Orr were the sons of Robert Orr. Solomon was known
as the “hundred canal boat man” and worked between Whitehall and Troy. What does
this expression mean?

Doris B. Morton, Town Historian – Whitehall Independent – March 23, 1988

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Autograph Books

Autograph Books were an ideal gift for a female in one’s life during the 19th
century. Highly decorated or plain, expensive or not, the books were to be filled by
friends or acquaintances of the owner who avidly sought signatures as do the high school
seniors today with their yearbooks.

One album in the Historical Society’s collection was written in the 1830’s. Its
colored pages for messages and signatures are interspersed with rather somber
lithographs but its pages are lightened with original flower paintings by the writers. The
messages are usually a page long and in a religious or sentimental family vein. This book
belonged to the great parents of Dorothy M. Parker.

Another book was filled by one Cornelia L. Payne during the years 1879-1889. She
attended Troy Business School and the signatures are from students in that school from
the surrounding communities. It is in the collection because of Sarah Lovinia Dennis of
Whitehall, who wrote: Nell, Though lost to sight, to memory dear, your friend.”

Autographs became set often, as did the inscriptions on cemetery stones and one
reads over and over the same verses like the ones in Maggie Jones’ book. She was from
Granville but many of the entries are from Whitehall. Her daughter Blodwen Williams
wrote: Roses are red, Violets are blue, Candy is sweet, And so are you, while Ella
Williams wrote: When you are married and live upstairs, don’t get proud and put on airs.”
Her father wrote his greeting in Welsh as did many of her friends.

Autographs are found in other places and in the collection are some school books
whose leaves are used for friendly greetings and sentiments. In Cora Mylotte’s arithmetic
book is this When this you see, Remember me and all my faults forget erase them from
thy memory if they remain there yet. Yours respectfully, Chas. E. McFarren; while
Carrie McFarren said: Cora, What people write in albums seems to me all the same, and
all I have to give you is my friendship and my name”. Others had no signature but show
the verse used. My pen is poor, My ink is pale, My love for you shall never fail. Forget
me not, forget me never, strawberry face won’t last forever. When this you see,
remember me a bare mind a constant friend is hard to find but when you find one just as
true change not the old one for the new.

And Cora had this one for a friend: Always remember And never forget, Leibbie
and Cora are good friends yet. Plow deep when the sluggards sleep And you will have
corn to sell and to keep.

Do you have Grandma’s or Mother’s old album? Get it out and spend some happy
moments with it. You’ll be surprised to find what a great person she was through other’s
eyes and what kind of people she knew through their own choice of greetings.


In July 1872 Rev. D. Lull came to stay in Whitehall for a time with Mr. and Mrs.
Anson Parks, as he said “Away from the heated, dusty, noisy streets of the great
metropolis, among the glorious lakes and hills of the Champlain region.” With the present
heat wave we might agree with her when she told the guest she would sooner live in a
hovel on Skene Mountain and pick whortleberries for a living than be in the noise-smitten
brown stone and brick imprisoned city.

Doris B. Morton, Town Historian – The Whitehall Times – July 27, 1972

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Anniversary bells for Mr. and Mrs. George Hyatt

Anniversary bells today for Mr. and Mrs. George Hyatt.


Whitehall is now a National Bicentennial Community. With the official flag and certificate presentation to come, the community will be farther along with the plans that have been formulated to make Celebration ‘76 a success with the assistance of all Whitehallers.

In 1959 Whitehall celebrated its Bicentennial in association with New York State’s observance of the 350th anniversary of the Lake Champlain – Hudson River Valley. This time the celebration of its part in history will be in association with the national bicentennial.

Our cause for celebration is manifold. Although it has been repeated often in this column, reiteration can put emphasis on the part Whitehall played in history as Skenesborough. Celebrations over the United States will take in events of the whole Revolutionary period; Boston has already had the Tea Party reenactment. Whitehall’s main action in the war was during 1775 to 1777 and so the celebration can cover 1975 to 1977.

The first event took place 9 May 1775 when Skenesborough was captured by two forces sent to obtain the schooner and other boats known to be in the place by Captain Herrick from Castleton and Captain Barnes from Salem. At that time the schooner was 41 taken and became the first ship of the Colonial and the Federal Navy. This action was the first war activity in New York State.

The second series of events came in 1776 when Skenesborough became the shipyard of Benedict Arnold when he constructed the first fleet of the United States that succeeded later in obstructing British action. This resulted in saving George Washington’s army and so; gave us the United States.

The third event was the – battle in Skenesborough Harbor 6 July 1777 when the last of the fleet was captured or sunk by British forces. This event called Burgoyne to Skenesborough where he made his headquarters for three weeks. This delay, while he waited for a road south to be cleared, again allowed the Americans time to recoup their forces and led to the British defeat at Saratoga.

These events are a part of Whitehall’s heritage — heritage which all citizens— former, present or future — can well be proud of and should be able to relate.

Doris B. Morton, Town Historian – The Whitehall Times – January 10, 1974

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Whitehall’s Bicentennial

This year 1975 will see the start of the observance of Whitehall’s part in this Republic’s national observance of its Bicentennial. This is the opportunity for Whitehall’s heritage to be written loud and clear, to be let out of obscurity caused by emotionalism over one man’s later treason, lack of thorough research, dominance of nearby community events, and just plain lack of knowledge of our community’s history.

Whitehallers are really proud of their community, although their words sometimes seem to belie the fact. Now is the time to spread the word of Revolutionary action, men, and national significance of the events that happened in Whitehall, the Champlain Valley, New York State and the nation. Let us show our pride in our heritage.

Doris B. Morton, Town Historian – The Whitehall Times – January 2, 1975

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The D&H in Capture Days

Vice President James Colpoys and Supervisor of Special Services Ellyn Freeman have arranged to have the D&H Spirit of Freedom, Engine 1776, and a baggage car on display in the railway yard during Capture Days May 9 and 10.

Personnel of the D&H active and retired are assisting in collecting railroad articles and pictures for the display and will act as hosts during the two days.

Many items will be needed for displays in the baggage car. Although Mrs. Freeman~ will furnish some displays and items from Skenesborough Museum will be used; it will be appreciated if anyone having railway items will loan them for the occasion.

The Bicentennial window in Aiken’s restaurant has a D&H display calling attention to the need for loans. A call to 499-0936 will insure the pick-up of any articles.

Doris B. Morton, Town Historian – The Whitehall Times – May 1, 1975

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