Gravestone of Rev. I. B. Coleman and wife Anna Dunham Coleman
History of Stephentown, New York
FROM Landmarks of Rensselaer County, New York
BY: GEORGE BAKER ANDERSON
PUBLISHED BY D. MASON & CO. PUBLISHERS, SYRACUSE, NY 1897
TOWN OF STEPHENTOWN.
Stephentown was formed from Rensselaerwyck March 29, 1784, and named in honor of Stephen Van Rensselaer. In 1791 the town of Petersburgh was taken off, and in 1806 the size of the town was still further decreased by taking off parts of Nassau and Berlin. The town is in the southeastern part of the county. It is bounded on the north by Berlin, on the east by the State of Massachusetts, on the south by Columbia county and on the west by Nassau. In shape it is an equilateral quadrangle.
The town is one of the most picturesque in the county or within a radius of many miles, rivaling the famed Berkshire hills of Massachusetts. Hills, many of them rocky and precipitous, abound everywhere. The Taghkanic mountains traverse the eastern part of the town and the Petersburgh mountains the western part, both extending in a northerly and southerly direction. Through the narrow and deep valley between them the Black and Kinderhook creeks flow toward the south. There is very little level or lowland in the town, and some of the highest mountain peaks are nearly 2,000 feet above the level of the sea. A very large proportion of the town is covered by forests, and many of the hills are surmounted by bare rocks. The most mountainous sections are full of interest to the geologist, quartz, sandstone, limestone, slate, shale and other forms of stone being abundant. The entire district is wild and rugged, an ideal resort for a lover of the grander forms of nature. In the Taghkanic range the highest peaks are Round mountain, Butternut bill and Whitney hill; in the Petersburgh range they are Webster mountain and Brockway hill. The soil generally is best adapted to grazing, though in some parts of the valley it is moderately fertile.
The earliest settlements in Stephentown were made in the same year in which Berlin was first settled-1765-but the pioneers entered the precincts of what is now known as Stephentown from an entirely dif ferent direction. Godfrey Brimmer, the pioneer of Berlin, came up the Little Hoosick valley from the north and located in the northern part of Berlin. The pioneers of Stephentown were from New England, mainly Rhode Island and Connecticut, and entered the town from the southeast, locating upon the high hills in the southeastern part of the town.
It seems to have been settled that the earliest inhabitants of Stephentown came, not as individuals or as single families, but in small colonies of a dozen or a score each, following some explorer who went ahead to ascertain the nature of the new country and the most advantageous site for the establishment of a colony. Asa Douglas and William Douglas were very early inhabitants, possibly the very first; though descendants of Elnathan Sweet, Benjamin Gardner, Joseph Rogers and others claim this honor for the families of the latter. Asa Douglas came from Plainfield, Conn., and took up a large tract of land in the extreme southeastern portion of the town. His son William came with his family about the same time and became a prominent settler. The other children were Benjamin, Eli, Amos, Abiah, Deidamia and Hannah. The family became very numerous and prominent in the town. Elnathan Sweet located very early in the southern part of the town. About the same time Nathaniel Rose, Edward Carr, Caleb Carr, Jonathan Howard and Joseph Rogers located in the same neighborhood. Alexander Brown came from Connecticut when a boy, about 1774, and located five or six miles west of the original settlements. His sons- Alexander S., Hiram W., Samuel J., George C., Morgan L., Frederick H. and Roswell D.-all settled in the town. Among other early inhabitants were Adam Brown, who came from Stonington, Conn., and raised a large family, which became prominent in the town; Major Daniel Brown, Ephraim Pierce, Beriah Holcomb, Dr. Calvin Pardce, Dr. Joshua Griggs, Henry Platt, James Adams, General Hosea Moffitt, who represented his district in Congress from 1813 to 1817; James Sweet, Justus Brockway, whose sons George and Samuel located in town; Ezekiel Parks, Daniel Parks, John Dixon, William Kittle, John Babcock, Isaac Finch, Lebbeus Brockway, Jacob Green, David Gould, Captain Benjamin Sackett, Jesse Bennett, Nathan Jones, Nathaniel Spring, Jeremiah jolls, Nathan Williams, John Horton, Jonathan Niles, Nathaniel Rose, George Arnold, Stephen Arnold, John Wylie, Talman Chase, Benjamin Harrington, James Jones, Dr. Nicholas Harris, Langford Green, Jonathan Howard, Abijah Bass, Joshua Palmer, Silas Babcock, John Curtis, Jacob Green, Isaac Humphrey, Eli Young, John Coleman, Elihu Adams, Shubael Adams, Marcus Dimond, Daniel Rowe, John W. Schermerhorn, Timothy Mattison, Gideon Brayton, Ezekiel Huntington.
An old record of the survey of the township of Stephentown contains some interesting facts regarding the earliest known work of this kind performed in accordance with the law. After citing the act authorizing the survey, the minutes of the various meetings of the commissioners read as follows:
Proceedings of the Commissioners at Steven town, Daniel Hull, Daniel Dennison & Sam Sherman.
January 9th 1775.- Benjamin Sheldon, Benjm Gardener and Jazeb Spencer, advertised in John Holts and Hugh Gaines News Papers, the Undivided lands to be Divided by Commissioners to meet on Wednesday the 12th day of April at the house of Othneil Gardener at Little Hosick.
April 19th, 1775.- The Commissioners in the same papers their appointment and to meet at Jazeb Spencers on the 25th July to Proceed on the said Partition.
July 25, 1775.- The Commissioners Meet agreeable to their Advertisement and adjourned to Monday the 16th October to Meet at the House of Jabez Spencers.
James Gray, Jun.
David Pixly, Jun.
STEVENTOWN, Monday, 16th October, 1775.
The Commissioners Meet according to adjournment and chose Wm. Cockburn of Kingston in the County of Ulster for their surveyor, who was sworn accordingly Truely & Impartially to Perform the Several Surveys, Required by the Commissioners in the Division of Stephentown,- They thier chose John Fox, Jim & John Philips their chain Bearers, who was likewise Sworn to Perform that Service, According to the Best of their Skill & Judgement, and to Render a just account of the length of every line chained by them to Wm. Cockburn the Surveyor. They also chose John Cox for their clark.
Tuesday the 17th October 1775.-Went with Benjm Sheldon to the South West corner of the town a Birch Tree Place of Beginning of the Township and Traced the South bounds from thence along a line of Marked Trees, to a Basswood Stump & stones, the Reputed Corner of Steventown formerly marked for the S. E. Corner of the Township. Lodged at Benjm Sheldons.
Wednesday 18th October 1775.-Began at the Basswood corner and Run the East bounds of the Township, a Birch Corner to the Westward of Messengersline, Then Run the North bounds to the Road. Lodged at Benjm Gardeners.
Thursday 19th October.-Continued the North bounds across Benjm Gardeners lot, Rainy Weather. Lodged at Gardeners.
Friday 20th October.-Rainy Weather still. Continuing, adjourned till Monday the 23d, to Meet at Gardeners, at 8 oclock in the forenoon.
Monday 23d October.-The Commissioners Meet According to Adjournment and Proceeded on the North bounds of the Township Marked a large Beech, the N. W. Corner of the Township, Then Run the West bounds a Mile & a Quarter. Lodged at Isaac Tapplins.
Tuesday 24th October.-Proceeded on the West bounds and Run Six chains to the Westwd of the Birch Corner, Then Run & marked the True line back from the Birch along the West bounds to Schermerhorns Road. The Commissioners went to Hills, the Surveyor & chainmen to Spencers.
Wednesday 25th October.-Continued the line to the N. W. Corner. Lodged at Ben Gardeners.
Thursday 26th October.-Surveyed Round No. 39 (to Witt) that part which lies within the bounds of the Town also the Common lands that lies in the N. E. Corner also that that part of Lot No. 31 that lies within the Town, & then Traced along the Westerly bounds of the Home lots to the N. E. Corner of Lot 17. Went to Benjm Sheldens & Lodged.
Friday 27th October.-Continued along the bounds of the Home lots to the South bounds. Went to Jazeb Spencers, P. M. the Surveyor employed in Protracting & casting up the Quantity of the home lots. Lodged at 3. Spencers.
Saturday 28th October.- Rainy Weather. the Commissioners adjourned till Monday 30th, Then to Meet at Jazeb Spencers at 12 o'clock.
Monday October 3Oth.- The Commissioners Meet According to Adjournment, & Surveyed the length & Breadth of No. 34 a Pitched lot, at Jazeb Spencers.
Tuesday 31st October.- Surveyed the length & Breadth of No. 32 & No. 3.5, and their Distance and Situation to the home lots.- P. M. Measured the South bounds at No. 33, & the Breadth of No. 48, Lodged at Deacon Roger's.
Wednesday 1st Nov'r._ Run the South bounds of No. 37. The Commissioners adjourned till the 3d Tuesday in April next to Meet at the house of Ben. Gardeners at 10 oclock in the forenoon.
They agreed to Meet the Surveyor in Albany the last Wednesday in January at 8 oclock in the forenoon at Rich Cartwright's in Albany.
The entries following are of little importance. The last one reads:
October 3, 1780.- The Commissioners met again but the Surveyor Not Coming By reason of the War they further adjourned to the first Tuesday in October Next then to Meet at the house of Dan'l Denison.
One of the earliest taverns in Stephentown was the one located at North Stephentown and kept by Rowland Hall. Later proprietors of the same inn were Lawrence Van Valkenburgh and Erastus Brown. Ichabod Croffut and Abner Bull were proprietors of other early taverns, that of the latter being located at Stephentown village. In the western part of the town Richard Spencer established an early inn, and later one was kept by Daniel Allen. Caleb Carr was an early innkeeper at Stephentown Center. Other early proprietors were Joseph Gardner and Benjamin Carpenter. The first store in the town of which there is any positive knowledge was kept by Joseph Westcott at North Stephentown as early as 1778.
As nearly as can be learned, the first physician to open an office in Stephentown was Dr. Baker, who located in the southeastern part of the town soon after the close of the War of the Revolution, perhaps as early as 1787 or 1788. Soon after Dr. Nicholas Harris began practicing at a point about five miles north of Dr. Baker's office. Both enjoyed an extensive practice, not only in Stephentown, but in other towns in Rensselaer county and in Massachusetts. Ten or twelve years later Dr. Calvin Pardee and Dr. Brighton located in town. Dr. Pardee came direct from Lebanon Springs, Columbia county, and originally from Connecticut. His home in Stephentown was at the point called Presbyterian Hill. Dr. Joshua Griggs was another early physician, and had an office at "the flats." Dr. Cuyler Tanner came to Stephentown village about 1828. Dr. Philander H. Thomas was also a successful practitioner later on in the eastern part of the town. Among later practitioners were Dr. Beriah Douglas, Dr. F. A. Carpenter, Dr. George H. Dickinson, Dr. G. F. Dickinson, Dr. Charles N. Reynolds.
Stephentown has an abundance of water-power, which formerly operated numerous industries. In late years, however, most of these have been abandoned and the manufacturing industries are small and few, the inhabitants being engaged principally in agriculture and stockraising. One of the first grist mills in the town was located in what was known as "Goodrich Hollow," on the branch of the Kinderhook creek, where about the earliest settlements were made. About 1800 a foundry and grist mill was built by William Landon in the southwestern part of the town. At "the flats" a carding mill was located at an early day by Cherevoy & Perry. Younglove's grist mill and saw mill, Humphrey & Perry's carding mill and Samuel Udell's carding mill and cloth-dressing works were located in the same vicinity not long afterward. About 1838 a satinet mill was located on Kinderhook creek by Adams & Chapman, and a flannel factory was conducted further down the stream by George W. Glass. These enterprises have been extinct many years.
By the general law dividing all the counties of the State into towns, passed April 7, 1801, the bounds of the town of Stephentown were described as follows:
Easterly by the east bounds of this State, southerly by the county of Columbia, westerly by Schodack and by the line aforesaid forming the east bounds of the said town of Schodack, and northerly by a line drawn east and west from the south bounds of the farm now or late of Peter Seaman to the east line of Abel Lewis's farm and extending thence along the summit of a certain mountain in the north part of Stephentown, and the range of that summit continued easterly to the east boundary of this State.
The Stephentown turnpike corporation was established by act of the Legislature April 3, 1801, when John W. Schermerhorn, Abijah Bush, Henry Platt and William Douglas were named as incorporators. The route of the road was "from the dwelling house of Henry Platt, in the town of Stephen town in the county of Rensselaer in the nearest and most direct route as far as circumstances will admit, till it intersects the Rensselaer and Columbia turnpike road at the dwelling house of John W. Schermerhorn or between that house and the one of Abijah Bush." William Douglas, John W. Schermerhorn and Henry Platt were named as commissioners to superintend the work of construction. The capital stock of the company was $8,000, divided into 800 shares of ten dollars each. It was directed that the road should be four rods wide, "twenty-four feet of which shall be bedded with wood, stone, gravel, or any other hard substance compacted together a sufficient depth, to secure a solid foundation to the same; and the said road shall be faced with gravel or other hard substance, in such manner as to secure, as near as the materials will admit, an even surface, rising towards the middle, by a gradual arch." The rates of toll were specified in the act. Other turnpikes were the Western Union turnpike, passing through the town from Schodack Landing to Hancock, Mass., and the Eastern Union turnpike, which extended from Hancock, Mass., to Albany, by way of Sand Lake village. Road building and improvement began at an early day, but on account of the hilly and rocky nature of the town the efforts of the friends of good roads necessarily have been limited.
The civil proceedings of the town were not recorded in a very satisfactory way in its early days. Local legislation which may have been quite important to the early inhabitants is referred to in the minutes of the proceedings of the town boards in the briefest and most indefinite way. The early settlers evidently suffered from the depredations of wolves, for April 6, 1802, there is an entry in the records of the town showing that the authorities that day offered a bounty of fifteen dollars for the head of a full-grown wolf and half that amount for the head of a young wolf.
The first legislative enactment that we can find providing for the establishment of a common school district is in the law passed March 22, 1799, which provided that "the freeholders residing on that part of Stephentown known by the name of The Twelve Thousand Acres, are hereby constituted and declared to be one body corporate and politic, in fact and in name, by the name of 'The Trustees of Schools in Stephentown.'" The amount of property to be held by this corporation was restricted to $3,000. The law was passed upon the representation to the Legislature "that there is a certain fund given the interest of which is to be appropriated for the encouragement of schools" at The Twelve Thousand Acres. The first trustees of the school district were, as named in the law, Hosea Moffat,(Sometimes also spelled Moffit and Moffitt) David Gould and Jonathan Niles.
One of the first school houses of which there is any record was located on Presbyterian hill, and one of its earliest teachers was a man named Frazer. Schools existed in the Carpenter district and in the Brown district early in the history of Stephentown. For many years the Rev. Eber M. Rollo was the principal of the school established on "the flats" as early as 1830.
The records of Stephentown fail to state how many men living in the town served in the American army during the War of the Revolution, or what their names Were. While the list probably can never be completed, among the names of the patriots which (have been preserved are Captain William Douglas, Captain Israel Platt, Major Daniel. Brown, Nathan Williams, John Horton, Abel Tanner and Justus. Brockway. Colonel Caleb parr commanded a regiment during the War of 1812, and among the men of Stephentown who joined it or served elsewhere in that war were Captain Leonard Ross, John Cranston, William B. Douglas, Eleazer Morton, Ichabod Morton, Peleg Kittle, Warren Swan and Samuel Babcock.
Stephentown was not outdone by any other town in the county when the govern meat called for troops to put down the rebellion of 1861-1865. September 11, 1862, a special town meeting voted a large appropriation for the pay of volunteers, and additional money was raised from time to time as occasion demanded. Of the seventy-seven soldiers who represented the town in the War of the Rebellion, the majority served in the Rensselaer county regiments. Those who died in the service of the United States were:
Ebenezer Kittle, John W. Blake, Abner Williams, Daniel Waters, John Gibson, Charles S. Daniels, Albert E. Hinkley, Charles F. Chapel, William B. Andrews, J. De Witt Coleman, Horace D. Woodward, Amos J. Daboll, George Coutan, Justus Whitman, Jonas Sykes, Peter Berry, George Dimond, Zopher Wheeler and Elizur G. Chase.
Every village or hamlet in the town of Stephentown bears its name. The principal village is Stephentown, which is located southeast of the centre of the town on Kinderhook creek and the Lebanon Springs railroad. The post-office here was established in 1804 and is the oldest in the town. The first postmaster was Nathan Howard.
The residents of Stephentown village, as well as those of the entire town, are engaged chiefly in farming. About 1876 seven manufacturing establishments existed in the village, but depression in business caused a suspension of operations. The flood which visited this section in August, 1890, did but little damage as compared with that of the adjacent towns. Roads were torn out and some farm land damaged. The educational department of the town consists of a district school, which is not graded, and has an attendance of about sixty-five during the year. The meetings of the town board are held in Mt. Whitney school house.
Mount Whitney lodge, I. O. O. F., of Stephentown was instituted September 20, 1892. The first officers were: N. G., A. Currier; V. G., A. B. Clifford; secretary, B. G. Eldridge; treasurer, C. A. Chaloner.
Stephentown Centre, formerly sometimes called Mechanicville,. is a small hamlet located in the centre of the town. In 1877 a post-office was established at that point with Ezra Chase as postmaster. The principal industry of the hamlet is farming, though there are several small manufacturing industries employing a small portion of the population.
North Stephentown, in the northeastern part of the town, is a little hamlet. The post-office there was established in 1823, with Lawrence Van Valkenburgh as the first postmaster.
Stephentown Flats, on Kinderhook creek, about a mile southwest of Stephentown village, once sustained several small mills and factories, but these for the most part were abandoned many years ago. When the place was first settled it was believed that its location would insure its prosperity, but after a few years its population began to decrease.
West Stephentown, in the northwest corner of the town, is also a small settlement. It has a post-office, established many years ago. To-day it is principally a farming community.
South Stephentown is a small settlement in the southern part of the town which formerly supported several industries. In recent years it has ceased to be a place of much importance.
The oldest church in Stephentown appears to be the Free Baptist church, which was organized September 13, 1783, as the "Free or Open Communion Baptist Church of Stephentown," by Elder Crandall and others. For nearly half a century the society had no regular place of worship, meeting at various places, generally at Black River district school house In 1828, at a cost of $800, the house of worship known for many years as the old Black River meeting house was constructed. About 1858 this was removed to its more convenient location, enlarged and remodeled. It was not until 1875 that the society was incorporated by law. The first regular pastor of whom there is any record was Elder Benajah Corpe, who served from 1785 to 1797.
The Presbyterian church at Stephentown Flats was in existence in 1793, and perhaps before that year. The elders in that year were William Boardman and Jacob Wylie. The first regular pastor was the Rev. Aaron Jordan Boage, who served from 1800 to 1809, though the pulpit had been supplied since 1794, the first stated supply being John Warford. The first house of worship was erected in 1794 and stood on "Presbyterian hill," so named from the church. In 1836 it was taken down and a new church built. The second building was burned on Christmas day, 1868, and a new one erected at once.
A second Free Communion Baptist church was organized March 20, 1793, ten years after the first of that denomination, at "Little Hoosick hollow," in the eastern part of the town. The only pastor the church ever had was an uneducated man named Nicholas Northrup, who was ordained as the "watchman" of the little flock. Soon after his death, which occurred about 1830, the church became extinct.
Another old Baptist church once existed in the northern part of the town, the log meeting house being located on the line between Stephentown and Berlin. The Rev. Joseph Barnes was its pastor.1 Soon after the close of the War of the Revolution the society became extinct, its members joining a Berlin church.
A Christian church, which had a house of worship near Stephentown, was organized about 1840 by Elder John Spoor. After an existence of about twenty years the meetings were abandoned and the society ceased to exist.
The earliest record of the First Baptist church of Stephentown bears date of March 25, 1795, which is believed to have been the date of organization. The first pastor of the church was Elder Robert Niles. The first meeting house was built soon after the society was founded. The society was incorporated November 24, 1825, as the First Baptist Church and Society of Stephentown.
The Free-Will Baptist church at West Stephentown began its existence November 11, 1829, with the Rev. A. H. Miller as pastor. The meeting-house was erected at once, on the hill near the burying ground, and nearly forty years later was remodeled and enlarged.
The Methodist Episcopal church of Stephentown began its existence as a mission in charge of the Troy conference in April, 1868, with George Hudson, a local preacher, as the first supply. Work was begun the following year on the first house of worship, which was dedicated April 4, 1871. The first regular pastor was the Rev. E. A. Braman, who assumed charge soon after the opening of the church.
SUPERVISORS OF STEPHENTOWN.
1784-85, Caleb Bentley; 1786-90, John W. Schermerhorn; 1790, Jonas Odell; 1791- 94, John Wylie; 1795-97, Samuel Vary; 1798-1805, Henry Platt; 1806-09, Hosea Moffitt; 1810, Henry Platt; 1811-16, Rowland Hall; 1817, John Babcock; 1818, William Douglass; 1819-21, James Jones; 1822-23, Henry Platt; 1824, Simon Cranston; 1825-26, Henry Platt; 1827, James Jones; 1828-30, C. Moffitt; 1831-33, R. A. Brower; 1834-35, Rufus Rose; 1836-39, E. G. Green; 1840-43, H. W. Brown; 1844, E. G. Green; 1845-46, S. V. R. Jones; 1847, G. W. Glass; 1848-49, J. L. Sheldon; 1850-52, Rufus Rose; 1853-54, R. A. Brown; 1855, T. G. Platt; 1856-57, E Adams; 1858, R. -Rose; 1859-60, S. Carpenter; 1861-63, T. G. Carpenter; 1864-67, Lewis Brown; 1868-69, Ezra Chase; 1870-71, S. E. Brown; 1872, Rufus Sweet; 1873, Wm. A. Gile; 1874, Rufus Sweet; 1875, Gideon S. Hall; 1876-77, Rufus Sweet; 1878, Gideon S. Hall; 1879-1881, Rufus Sweet; 1882-1883, W. A. Gile; 1884-1885, John D. Kittle; 1886-1888, Rufus Sweet; 1889-1891, E. G. Eldridge; 1892-1893, W. C. Woodward; 1894- , Henry Snell.
TOWN CLERKS OF STEPHENTOWN.
1784, Jonathan Niles; 1790, Hezekiah Hall; 1791, Hosea Moffitt; 1792, Henry Platt; 1795, Ichabod Cone, Jonathan Niles; 1796, Henry Platt; 1797, Hosea Moffitt; 1798, William Douglas, jr.; 1815, Eber Moffltt; 1817, Aria Pardee; 1823, Ira Gardner; 1829, Randall A. Brown; 1831, Elijah Graves; 1834, Hosea W. Brown; 1840, Caleb Chapman; 1843, Henry Platt; 1844, Alexander Gardner; 1848, Theodore D. Platt; 1849, Eber M. Rollo; 1850, Joseph R. Reynolds; 1851, Thomas G. Carpenter; 1852, Edwin Adams: 1853, Philander Woodward; 1856, Ezra B. Chase; 1860, Lewis Brown; 1863, Orra G. Strait; 1864, Charles H. Vary; 1869, Walter B. Goold; 1870, Andrew J. Brown; 1872, E. A. Cranston; 1873, W. B. Goold; 1874, W. H. Brimmer; 1875, Edwin E. Dotty; 1876. William H. Brimmer; 1877-1883, Andrew J. Brown; 1884-1885, George T. Chittenden; 1886-1887, John Reynolds; 1888, E. G. Eldridge; 1889-1891, William C. Woodward; 1892-1893, John R. Palmer; 1894-1895, Fred G. Gardner; 1896-. -, John R. Palmer.
JUSTICES OF THE PEACE OF STEPHENTOWN.
1826, John Babcock, Silas Thomas, Caleb Carr; 1830, Meshach Strait, Nathan Howard; 1832, Rufus Sweet; 1833, Amos James; 1834, John L. Sheldon; 1836, Philander Woodward; 1837, Amos James; 1838, John L. Sheldon; 1839, Meshach Strait; 1840, Philander Howard; 1841, Daniel H. Gardner; 1842, John L. Sheldon; 1843, Joseph Tayer; 1844, William J. Potter; 1845, William J. Potter, James M. Glass; 1846, Zebulon Simmons, Lyman Kingman; 1847, Joseph Tayer; 1848, William Hand, Meshach Strait, Joseph M. Young; 1849, Ira Tuft; 1850, Henry Reynolds, Ezekiel Huntington; 1851, George W. Glass; 1852, Alanson N. Green, William Hand, Silas V. Thomas; 1853, Ira Tuft, Calvin M. Jones; 1854., John L. Sheldon. Edmond Bailey; 1855, Meshach Strait, Silas V. Thomas; 1856, William Hand: 1857, Isaac Dunham; 1858, John L. Sheldon, Ira Tuft; 1859, Tabor B. Roberts; 1860, Theodore D. Platt; 1861, Halbert H. Jones, Allen Kittel; 1862, Spencer C. Brown; 1863, Tabor B. Roberts; 1864, Allen Kittel; 1865, Haihert H. Jones; 1866, Egbert Jolls; 1867, Rensselaer Delevan; 1868, Allen Kittel, Joseph C. Huntington; 1869, Henry T. Douglas; 1870, Thomas M. Greenman, James M. Glass; 1871, George A. Tayer; 1872. Ira Tuft; 1873, John D. Kittel; 1874, George W. Jones, W. T. Bradway: 1875, John D. Kittel; 1876, George A. Tayer; 1877, Jonathan J. Carpenter; 1878, D. H. Newton; 1879, William H. Eldridge; 1880, T. A. Platt; 1881, Jay Segar; 1882, D. H. Newton; 1883, Charles Shumway; 1884, long term, T. A. Platt, short term, F. A. Green; 1885, Jay Segar; 1886, D. H. Newton; 1887, A. M. Fredenburgh; 1888, E. G. Eldridge; 1889, long term, William H. Brimmer, short term, George A. Taylor; 1890, William H. Bailey; 1891, long term, W. W. Sweet, short term, W. H. Bailey; 1892, George A. Taylor; 1893, long term, F. A. Green, short term, George Shillinger; 1894, D. H. Newton; 1895, Albert Provost; 1896. Elbert Bateman.
Graves of Asa Douglas and his son William, two of the first settlers in Stephentown.
Stephen Van Rensselaer III (November 1, 1764–January 26, 1839) was an American statesman, soldier, and land-owner, the heir to one of the greatest estates in the New York region at the time. He is the father of Henry Bell Van Rensselaer, who was a politician and general in the Union Army during the American Civil War.
Van Rensselaer was born in New York City, the eldest child of Stephen Van Rensselaer II and Catharina Livingston. His family was very wealthy, and the Van Rensselaer Manor House was a rich childhood environment for the young boy to grow up in. However, his father died in 1769, when Van Rensselaer III was only five, and the heir to his father's estate.
Van Rensselaer III was raised by his uncle, Abraham Ten Broeck, who administered the Van Rensselaer estate after Van Rensselaer II's untimely death. At an early age, Van Rensselaer III was raised to succeed his father as lord of the manor, and the remarriage of his mother to Dominie Westerlo in 1775 did nothing to change this. To this end he was sent off to school, and in 1782, Van Rensselaer III graduated from Harvard University. One year later, he married Margarita Schuyler, the daughter of renowned Revolutionary War general Philip Schuyler. Van Rensselaer was only nineteen years old, but Margarita's death in 1801 would cause him to enter into his second marriage one year later with Cornelia Paterson, daughter of former New Jersey Governor William Paterson.
On his 21st birthday, Van Rensselaer took possession of his family's prestigious estate, close to 12,000 square miles (31,000 km˛) in size, named Rensselaerswyck, and began a long tenure as lord of his family's manor. Van Rensselaer desired to make money off of the land that was suddenly his, but was extremely reluctant to sell it off. Instead, he granted tenants perpetual leases at moderate rates, which saved would-be landholders from having to pay all of their money up front. This meant that they could invest more in their operations, which lead to increased productivity in the area. Over time, Van Rensselaer would become landlord over 3,000 tenants, and proved a lenient and benevolent landowner. His tenants, who did not have to work in fear of sudden foreclosure or unfair treatment, were able to focus on their work, and the productivity Van Rensselaer created benefited the entire Albany area.
Van Rensselaer also spent a great deal of time in political pursuits, it is said more out of a sense of duty than of ambition. He served in the New York State Assembly from 1789 to 1791 and the New York State Senate from 1791 to 1796, being named Lieutenant-Governor of the entire state in 1795. Van Rensselaer, over his time in politics, acquired a reputation as something of a reformer, voting in favour of extending the suffrage and going against much of New York's upper class in doing so.
In 1786, Van Rensselaer was made a major of the United States militia, which set him on a brief military career. Though the military was not Rensselaer's major pursuit, he was a militia major-general by 1801, a path which would come to a head during the War of 1812. Van Rensselaer, despite having held high rank in the militia for several decades, was, like most American militia officers at the time, virtually untrained and inexperienced. Clearly, Van Rensselaer was not a good choice to command an entire American army, but politics as much as military tactics dictated many of the military appointments of the day.
Van Rensselaer was a leading opposition candidate for Governor of New York, and the incumbent Daniel D. Tompkins was worried about the run the popular and wealthy Van Rensselaer could give him. However, the Republican Tompkins soon devised a way to remove Van Rensselaer from the picture, which was to offer him command of the United States Army of the Centre. If Van Rensselaer, who was, technically, a militia major-general, declined the post, then he would lose esteem in the eyes of the voters. If he accepted, he would be unable to run for Governor with the Federalists. If Van Rensselaer proved (as seemed likely) a poor general, he would be discredited and his reputation would be badly mauled. However, even if Van Rensselaer proved a natural and was able to do well, he would not be able to run for Governor because the military powers-that-be would refuse to remove him. Tompkins' clever maneuvering had eliminated his main rival, but it had given short shrift to the war that had only just begun.
Van Rensselaer accepted the post, and with his decidedly more soldierly cousin Solomon as his aide-de-camp, attempted to assure the honour of his country in the war (despite the fact that, as a Federalist, he had been against the war in the first place). But the Army of the Centre consisted largely of soldiers like himself — untrained, inexperienced militiamen, who, under the Constitution, did not actually have to cross over into Canada to fight. The British were in the process of fortifying the Queenston Heights that Van Rensselaer would have to attack, and his officers were itching for action despite their general's desire to delay. To make matters worse, Brigadier-General Alexander Smyth, Van Rensselaer's subordinate, had a large force of trained regulars that was theoretically under Van Rensselaer's overall command. However, Smyth, a regular soldier, continuously refused to obey Van Rensselaer's commands or answer his summons. With his officers planning to try and force Van Rensselaer out, the General saw that he had to act without Smyth against the fortified Queenston Heights position. It was a prodigious miscalculation.
On October 13, 1812, Van Rensselaer launched an attack on the British position that would evolve into the Battle of Queenston Heights, in which Van Rensselaer's forces were badly beaten by the British generals Isaac Brock and, after Brock's death, Roger Hale Sheaffe. Van Rensselaer's preparations and his plan of attack were clearly a major reason for the scale of the defeat, as he was unable to secure the element of surprise, did not procure enough boats for his men to cross easily, did not even get enough ammunition to his men. Despite badly outnumbering the British in the early stages of the battle, the American soldiers, untried and untrained, sometimes refused to cross the river, and Van Rensselaer was not even able to coax the boatmen into going back over to rescue the doomed attack force. The defeat at Queenston Heights spelled the end to Van Rensselaer's military career, and after the battle, he resigned his post. Van Rensselaer's political ambitions were far from over, but, as Daniel Tompkins had hoped, Van Rensselaer would never become Governor of New York.
After the war, Van Rensselaer still enjoyed a fair measure of popularity, and still had the energy to try to serve his country. He was on the canal commission for twenty-three years (1816–1839), fourteen of which he served as its president. In 1821, he was a member of the New York State Constitutional Convention, and two years later, he was elected by special election to the seat in the House of Representatives that his cousin Solomon had vacated. He served from February 27, 1822 to March 3, 1829, during the Seventeenth, Eighteenth, Nineteenth, and Twentieth Congresses; during the last three sessions, he was the chairman of the Committee on Agriculture. During this time he memorably cast the vote that put John Quincy Adams in the White House at the expense of Andrew Jackson.
After 1829, Van Rensselaer did not stand for re-election, and retired from political life to focus on educational and public welfare interests. He was regent of the University of New York from 1819 to 1839.
Despite his active life, Van Rensselaer's most lasting contribution to the world was to establish, with Amos Eaton, the Rensselaer School (now known as Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, or RPI) "for the purpose of instructing persons, who may choose to apply themselves, in the application of science to the common purposes of life" in 1824. RPI became a well-respected American technological institution.
Stephen Van Rensselaer III died in 1839. He was buried on his family plot, but was later reinterred in the Albany Rural Cemetery.