In 2010, the Clinton County Historical Association formed a committee to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. Since its formation, the committee has planned numerous lectures and programs at the Museum, and also took on a research project to culminate in the publication of a book. » Continue Reading.
Posts Tagged ‘Civil War’
One hundred and fifty-five years ago today John Brown was executed after leading an anti-slavery raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia, part of the radical movement of tens of thousands of Americans struggling to undermine the institution of slavery in America before the Civil War.
It’s often said that just one thing secured Brown’s place in the hearts of millions of Americans – his execution and martyrdom. But there is another more important reason to celebrate the life of John Brown – his courage in standing against unjust state and federal laws, the press, and popular culture in the cause of basic human rights.
In 2009, I wrote a ten-part series of posts following the last days of John Brown’s fight to end slavery. You can find that here (to read in chronological order, start at the bottom).
Black history in the Adirondacks has an anecdotal quality, maybe because the numbers of black Adirondackers have been so few. Here’s a story of a black homesteader who was good friends with John Brown. There’s a barn that may have sheltered fugitives on the Underground Railroad. Outside Warrensburg is a place in the woods where a black hermit lived. And so on.
The temptation – and I should know; I’ve been a lead offender – is to make a sort of nosegay out of these scattered stories, pack them all into a story by its lonesome, a chunky little sidebar, and let this stand for the black experience.
It makes a good read, and it’s efficient. And it’s wrong. It reinforces the idea that the black experience in this region was something isolated, inessential. It ghettoizes black Adirondack history, and this wasn’t how it was. » Continue Reading.
In the New York Times of February 11, 1877, appeared the obituary of a North Country native, Theodorus Bailey, who was born in Chateaugay in 1805 and moved to Plattsburgh with his family around 1811. The Battle of Plattsburgh took place three years later, on September 11, 1814. Although Theodorus was just nine years old, that historic event made quite an impression. His obituary, in fact, pointed out that Bailey “accepted as his pet hero Commodore Macdonough, the American commander in the battle,” and was thus inspired to seek a career in the navy.
It’s also interesting that among the War of 1812 battles that are considered pivotal, Plattsburgh has often been overlooked in favor of three others: Baltimore, Lake Erie, and New Orleans. And yet this same Theodorus Bailey was lauded as a hero of the Battle of New Orleans.
How can that be? Well, there were actually two Battles of New Orleans, but because the name was already taken during the War of 1812, the second one, which occurred during the Civil War, is often referred to as the Capture of New Orleans. » Continue Reading.
Rollin O. Sanford died on July 29, 1864 while a prisoner of war at the infamous Andersonville prison in Georgia. His only son, Rollin J, was born that very same day in Hopkinton NY, twelve hundred miles to the north, in what is now the Adirondack Park. While there are countless stories of tragedy and heartache that occurred during the Civil War, this story seemed especially poignant, since it involved our family.
Rollin O. Sanford, described as a large and powerful man, was the tenth child and youngest son of Jonah and Abigail Greene Sanford. He was a farmer in Hopkinton, married to Ermina Roberts, with whom he had two daughters, Lillian and Jeanette. “Nettie”, the younger daughter, died in November 1863 at age two, one month before Rollin went off to war. Years later Lillian wrote about the death of her little sister and how her father “held Nettie in his arms as her little life went out”. » Continue Reading.
In the year 2000, five years after Plattsburgh Air Force Base closed, Pratt & Whitney signed a lease, moved in, and set up shop on the former base property. Many jobs and residents had been lost in the shutdown, making Pratt & Whitney a valued anchor business in the recovery effort.
Their arrival might have been a homecoming of sorts with historical significance, but persistent misinformation carried forward for more than a century appears to have robbed the region of an important link to the past. » Continue Reading.
It was the first time Grant had battled Lee. The two armies blundered into each other in deep woods just west of Fredericksburg, Virginia in early May of 1864. It would be known as the battle of the Wilderness. Grant’s Federal forces totaled over 101,000 to Confederate General Lee’s 61,000. Fighting in the deep woods with their opposition obscured by acrid black powder smoke, the casualties were horrendous.
Only by the flash of the volleys of the forming line could they know their enemy. The woods lit up with flashes of musketry and according to one observer, the incessant roar of the volleys sounded like the crashing of thunderbolts. Brave men tumbled to the ground like autumn leaves in a windstorm. Through all this the 93rd New York continued to advance over a mile through a tangled forest, underbrush, and swamps – all while facing rifle and artillery fire.
Adding to the horror was that the woods caught fire. It had not rained for weeks and the explosions of the battle set the dry undergrowth on fire. Wounded men, unable to escape, were burned alive. Those that escaped the fires were placed at quickly established aid stations. Some recovered; many did not. » Continue Reading.
Launching John Brown Day 2014, students from high schools across the Adirondacks will attend special screenings of 12 Years a Slave, the Academy award-winning film based on the autobiography of Solomon Northup, a free Black Adirondacker who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the mid-1800s.
Born in Minerva in 1808, Northup lived many of his early years in the region, married and made a home with his wife and their three children in Saratoga Springs. It was there in 1841 where his harrowing entrapment and subsequent enslavement on a Louisiana cotton plantation began.
Eighteen years later in October 1859 John Brown’s raid on the federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry, Virginia, lit the spark that ignited the war that ended the chattel slavery that Northup and millions of other people of African descent endured in the United States. » Continue Reading.
St. Lawrence County’s Civil War Veterans is the topic for discussion at the next St. Lawrence County Historical Association (SLCHA) Civil War Roundtable this Sunday, March 30th, 2 p.m. at the Silas Wright House, 3 East Main St., Canton.
John Austin will tell about his project to document all of St. Lawrence County’s Civil War veterans. The North Country Civil War Roundtable is part of the St. Lawrence County Historical Association’s Commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, which was fought from 1861-1865. » Continue Reading.
The widower ex-President Benjamin Harrison and part of his extended family came to the Fulton Chain in the summer of 1895. By the following summer, his summer home Berkeley Lodge would be built on a peninsula between First and Second Lakes for him and for a new wife. Our story starts with the election of 1888.
At the age of 55, Benjamin Harrison became the 23rd President in the first election where the electoral college vote went contrary to the popular vote. Besides his wife, Caroline Scott Harrison, the White House family included son Russell Lord, his wife Mary and their daughter Marthena; daughter Mary Scott and husband J. Robert McKee and son Ben (“Baby McKee”); and Caroline’s 90 year old recently widowed father Rev. John Scott. Later in the term, it included niece Caroline’s widowed 30 year old niece, Mrs. Mary Scott Lord Dimmick. » Continue Reading.
Among those to rise from humble Adirondack roots and pursue life in the big city was Charles P. Shaw, a native of Jay, New York, where he was born in 1836. “Humble,” meaning relative poverty, aptly described most North Country citizens in those early days. But Shaw may have had an advantage since there were two doctors in the family: his father, Daniel, and his grandfather, Joshua Bartlett. As educated men, they were more likely to stress among their family the importance of education.
For whatever reason, Charles was an excellent and precocious student. There survives in old newspapers an anecdote suggesting he was indeed an unusually bright pupil. » Continue Reading.
A new biography is shedding light on an overshadowed North Country political figure, the Nineteenth Vice President of the United States. In William Almon Wheeler: Political Star of the North Country (2013, SUNY Press), author Herbert C. Hallas leaves no doubt that Wheeler was a more significant political figure than the existing literature may lead one to believe.
The book is the first and only complete biography of Wheeler, a man referred to as “the New York Lincoln,” who helped to found the Republican Party and build it into a formidable political force during the Gilded Age. Wheeler’s life is an American success story about how a poor boy from Malone achieved fame and fortune as a lawyer, banker, railroad president, state legislator, five-time congressman, and vice president of the United States. » Continue Reading.
This Saturday my family and six of my son’s friends will be celebrating his birthday by becoming part of the Underground Railroad. It won’t be the typical birthday party, but it is the one that my son wants to share with his friends. Presented by the Pok-O-MacCready Outdoor Education Center and the Underground Railroad Historical Association, the North County Underground Railroad Experience will be held rain, snow or shine at the Willsboro 1812 Homestead Museum on November 23 from 6-9 pm. This trip through local history is a mere $5 per person.
Participants will play the roles of escaped slaves while the Pok-O-MacCready staff plays the roles of bounty hunters, abolitionists and marshals. According to Brian DeGroat, Director of the Outdoor Education Center, the event is geared to children ages 10 and older due mainly to the serious issues regarding slavery and gearing the lecture to an older audience. » Continue Reading.
Minerva, primitive and remote in the early 1800s, hardly would have seemed a likely birthplace for a man who would write a book which would attract national attention, make the author a household name, and, to some degree, help start a civil war. But indeed, it was there that Solomon Northup, author of Twelve Years A Slave, was born.
Technically the town of Minerva did not exist at the time of Solomon’s birth on July 10, 1807 (though his book gives 1808 as his year of birth, more official documents have it as 1807); the town of Minerva was not formed until 1817. In 1807 the area, not yet known as Minerva, would have been part of the Town of Schroon. » Continue Reading.
In the tiny town of Saranac, sometimes referred to as Saranac Hollow, stands a monument to the town’s Civil War veterans. What makes it unique is that, during the war, the townspeople sent over three and a half times its draft quota to the Union Army. With a population of 3,600 people, 416 veterans are honored on the monument.
Walking around an Adirondack cemetery may seem like something straight out of horror films or reserved for a spooky Halloween night, but standing tall in Independence Cemetery is a war memorial that far exceeds any school lessons covering the United States Civil War.
According to the Town of Saranac’s historian Jan Couture it is the only Civil War memorial in Clinton County and the first war memorial of any kind in the county. To first look at it, it seems quite simple but the power is in reading the dedications and recognizing names we assume to be related to these brave lost soldiers. » Continue Reading.
Civil War veteran/hero Joseph Lonsway, long accustomed to hard work, continued serving as a river guide (and remained hooked on fishing) well into old age. On two occasions, he nearly lost his life in fire-related incidents. In 1911, when he was 67, Joseph, with fellow guide and friend Joseph Calhoun, rushed to help fight a blaze that ultimately destroyed the Hotel Frontenac. They were together on an upper floor when the electricity failed, forcing them to leave the building. Calhoun urged Lonsway to depart first because he was older, but something went terribly wrong. In the end, Lonsway escaped, but Calhoun perished.
Four years later, Joseph was in a recently burned building when he suddenly fell through the floor, landing in the basement. After medical treatment for serious injuries to his legs and hips, he finished recovering at home. » Continue Reading.
In “The Road Not Taken,” poet Robert Frost wrote of encountering two roads diverging in a wood: “I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” That’s life in a nutshell: it’s all about decisions. When confronted with options, we make a choice. Sometimes even the first few moments that follow can change our lives forever. Such was the case with a North Country soldier, Private Joseph Lonsway of Clayton, New York (in Jefferson County, on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River).
Lonsway was a member of the Union Army’s 20th NY Cavalry which, in October 1864, was on a mission to assess the enemy’s strength and destroy army supplies near Murfree’s Station, Virginia. They soon found themselves in a standoff with rebel troops based on the opposite bank of the Blackwater River. Heavy fire was exchanged, but Union troops clearly had only one option to pursue the enemy: a ferry, operated by a rope connected to both shores. But there was a problem: the ferry in question was tied to the far bank, and was only about 10 yards from the rebel breastworks. » Continue Reading.
Among the interesting stories to review during this sesquicentennial of the Civil War are those of North Country families who paid an unusually high price. In covering such tragic tales, the principal difficulty lies in getting it right―no small task when the main event occurred 150 years ago.
In many cases, we may never be sure exactly what happened, but the availability of digitized records (a subject addressed here last week in story comments) has changed the game. The truth sometimes emerges to replace embellishments that appeared in the long-accepted, oft-repeated version of a story. » Continue Reading.
A plethora of Civil War stories has flooded the media during this lengthy sesquicentennial. Folks whose roots are in the North often take comfort and perhaps pride that their ancestors were on the right side of the conflict. “Rightness” is still an issue in several former members of the Confederacy, but even if some in the South claims the issue was states’ rights, it was the right of a state to deprive certain humans of their own humanity. And if you’re wrong, you’re wrong. No amount of arguing will change that fact.
However, northern descendants may be a bit hasty in taking credit for the presumed correctness of their ancestors. While the record shows the country was split between North and South, we pay much less attention to the divisive effect the war had on individual towns and villages, even in the North Country. » Continue Reading.
What follows is a guest essay by Peter Slocum, a volunteer and board member with the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association, based in Ausable Chasm.
Almost lost in the recent “Fiscal Cliff” spectacle was the anniversary marking one of the major positive milestones of our history — President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
On January 1, 1863, some 3 million people held as slaves in the Confederate states were declared to be “forever free.” Of course, it wasn’t that simple. Most of those 3 million people were still subjugated until the Union Army swept away the final Confederate opposition more than two years later. And slavery was not abolished in the entire United States until after the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution passed in 1865.
» Continue Reading.