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Tales from the Oswegatchie Delta
By James E. Reagen
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Tales from the Oswegatchie Delta

Houghton Given Command Of Fort Haskell Troops

First published: September 18, 2014 at 2:27 am
Last modified: September 18, 2014 at 2:27 am

EDITOR’S NOTE - Second in a three-part series on Col. Charles Houghton, a resident of the town of Macomb in St. Lawrence County who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Civil War. Col. Houghton is one of 15 residents of the county who were awarded the nation’s highest honor for heroism and valor during the War between the States. Over 8,000 residents of the county fought to preserve the Union. Few counties in the state or nation received as many Medals of Honor during the Civil War.

——

Four months after earning distinction at the “Battle of the Crater” where Major Charles Houghton led the Union assault against the entrenched Confederate forces at Petersburg, Va., the Macomb hero had been assigned to command “Fort Haskell.”

The Union fortified artillery position outside Petersburg housed 350 troops and six rifled guns, just a small part of the Union Army beseiging Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s entrenched forces barring the road to Richmond, Va., the capital of the Confederacy.

By mid-March General Lee had decided he needed to break out of the encircling line that Union General Ulysses Grant was using to surround his army. General Lee ordered 12,000 infantry to dislodge the federal troops that had beseiged his Confederate forces.

On March 24th, Captain Houghton advised the members of his 14th Artillery Regiment that they needed to prepare themselves for an attack by the rebels that he expected to come that morning. When asked why, he told them he had a strong unexplainable premonition that the Confederates were planning a sneak attack.

He told his troops to be prepared to resist an attack.

On the morning of March 25th, under cover of darkness, the rebels sent forces against Fort Haskell and nearby Fort Stedman. The Confederates managed to sneak inside Fort Stedman where they overwhelmed the Union defenders, opening a gap of nearly 1,000 feet in the Union lines.

At 3 a.m., a soldier on watch at Fort Haskell heard what sounded to him like Confederates soldiers chopping away at the wooden defenses set up as obstacles in front of Fort Haskell.

He fired his signal gun, alerting the officers that he believed the rebels were preparing to attack.

Fort Haskell’s officers immediately rushed to get their men up to defend the walls.

When Captain Houghton came to the wall, he could see the Confederates massing in the dark toward the front of Fort Haskell.

He quietly ordered his men positioning themselves along the front parapet to hold their fire until he gave the command to fire.

The garrison stood silently in the darkness with one of their artillery pieces loaded with case shot.

The Confederates continued to advance in double rank outside Fort Haskell’s walls as their commander cautioned them to move more quietly.

According to “Deeds of Valor: How American Heroes Won the Medal of Honor,” the rebel commander urged his men to quietly advance toward Fort Haskell.

“We’ll have their works - steady men, steady,” the rebel leader cautioned.

“Wait,” whispered Captain Houghton. “Wait till you can see them, then fire.”

“Steady, men, steady,” the Confederate officer told his men as they advanced toward Fort Haskell’s walls.

“Fire,” shouted Captain Houghton.

“And a terrific volley from cannon and muskets, heralded by a single awful crash swept along the ranks of the astonished Confederate force.

Surprised, almost demoralized by the unexpected onslaught from the Union walls of Fort Haskell, the Confederates fell back a short distance to reform their ranks and advance again up the slope.

As before, they were received with a concerted volley from cannon and musketry that sent them reeling back to the rear.

The Confederate attackers found themselves cut into small squads who attempted simultaneous attacks at different points along the fort, but without sufficient numbers to scale the walls.

The battle at Fort Haskell alerted the Union defenders that the Confederates were attempting a sneak attack against the Union lines.

The Confederates who had overwhelmed nearby Fort Steadman and other nearby positions then turned their captured artillery on Captain Houghton and his gallant garrison’s defenders who bought valuable time for the Union forces to organize a counter-attack.

The rebels made three furious attacks on Captain Houghton’s force but were driven back in confusion each time.

Captain Houghton had his right leg shattered by a fragment from a shell that had exploded at his feet.

Other fragments wounded his right hand severely.

He was carried to a position where he could continue to direct his men in defense of the fort.

Luckily, his garrison’s stiff defense had successfully alerted the Union defenders who rushed to join Fort Haskell’s defenders to help in repulsing the Confederate sneak attack.

By 7:30 a.m., the Union Army had brought more than 4,000 soldiers to close the gap, driving the demoralized Confederates back, recapturing Fort Stedman and ending the threat of a rebel break out through the bluecoat lines.

The battle cost the Union army over 1,000 casualties (72 killed, 450 wounded and 522 missing or captured) and the Confederate army over 4,000 casualties (600 killed, 2,400 wounded and 1,000 missing or captured.)

Most Civil War historians say the defeat weakened Lee’s Confederate Army, costing the rebels their final opportunity to break the Union lines.

Less than a week later, General Grant capitalized on the defeat by launching his own attack on the rebels, penetrating their lines on April 2nd and capturing Richmond on April 3rd.

General Lee surrendered a week later on April 9th.

(To Be Continued)

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Smugglers And Early Ogdensburg

First published: September 04, 2014 at 2:16 am
Last modified: September 04, 2014 at 2:16 am

EDITOR’S NOTE - The following article is the second in a two part series on Ogdensburg’s smugglers.

—-

In 1919 when the U.S. Congress banned the manufacture or sale of beer and liquor, Ogdensburg’s traditional role as a home to smugglers resumed. Known as “Little Chicago” for its speakeasies, brothels and trade in illicit alcohol, many city residents made their fortune smuggling beer and liquor from Canada through Ogdensburg.

The late Mark Coakley once recalled that smugglers during Prohibition would sit in their boat out at Ogdensburg’s sandbar and wait for the lights to go out at the Customs station. When the officers would leave for the night, they would unload their shipment of booze in a bread truck that would wait for the Border Patrol to leave before it would pull up to the shore to pick up a shipment.

The late Ray Kentner of Waddington recalled that a wagon that travelled from farm to farm on the Ogdensburg to Waddington road during prohibition actually carried a supply of liquor underneath a fake floor.

The late Jimmy Mills, former owner of The Place, said that the U.S. Border Patrol agents used to tip off the former owner of his bar before federal officers would conduct raids in Ogdensburg. Many of the federal agents used to drink at The Place so they made sure the owner knew ahead of time when they would be checking for illegal alcohol.

The Blue Church cemetery in Maitland, Ont., just a few miles west of Ogdensburg, reportedly has hollow grave stones where bottles of liquor were hidden. American bootleggers would land at the shore, sneak into the graveyard and unscrew metal plates covering the hidden compartments in the headstones to find the alcohol hidden by their Canadian colleagues.

The Greater Ogdensburg Chamber of Commerce advises scuba divers to be on the lookout for sunken cars and trucks littering the bottom of the St. Lawrence River that fell through the ice when smugglers drove them from Canada to the U.S. across the frozen St. Lawrence River, carrying loads of illicit booze.

Old timers in the city say that smugglers in small boats would sometimes hide in the cavity beneath the old stone Bell Flour Mill (next to the Maple City pedestrian bridge) until the Border Patrol’s boat had passed by and the coast was clear.

Bootleggers would sometimes fill wooden crates with bottles of liquor, salt and a flotation device. If federal agents looked like they were going to intercept their boat, they would throw the crate overboard and it would quickly sink to the bottom because of the weight of the salt. The federal agents would search the smugglers boat and find nothing while the water would dissolve the salt. When the crate bobbed back to the surface, the rum runner would be waiting to retrieve his illicit contraband.

Today, scuba divers still find bottles of Canadian liquor and beer littering the bottom of the St. Lawrence River.

By the 1940s and 1950s, the rumrunners were gone, but Ogdensburg’s reputation as the “sin city” of Northern New York was still intact. With more bars than churches and most of them lining the waterfront, Canadians from across Ontario would use the ferry to travel here and party on weekends.

Many of the bars, stores and civic clubs operated illegal slot machines and offered other kinds of gambling.

The late City Councilor Robert Russell said that as a taxi driver in his youth, he supplemented his wages by selling condoms to his customers visiting the city’s brothels.

By 1951, Ogdensburg’s reputation had grown so bad that New York Governor Thomas Dewey asked the New York State Crime Commission to launch a massive investigation that eventually led to state police raids and the arrests of several leading citizens.

If you have a story about Ogdensburg’s smuggling days, e-mail it to jimreagen1@gmail.com.

James E. Reagen is a former managing editor of The Journal and Advance News. He is the author of “Warriors of La Presentation” and “Fort Oswegatchie.” He is currently employed by the New York State Senate.

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Smugglers And Early Ogdensburg

First published: August 28, 2014 at 2:31 am
Last modified: August 28, 2014 at 2:31 am

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article is the first in a two part series on Ogdensburg’s smugglers.

—-

The Maple City has enjoyed a colorful reputation as a haven for smugglers since its first American settlers arrived here in 1796, shortly after the British were forced to evacuate Fort Oswegatchie and renounce all claims to Northern New York with the adoption of the Jay Treaty.

In 1807, when the U.S. Congress banned trade with England, Ogdensburgh’s founding fathers ignored the new law since the community’s entire economy was based on trading across the river with their British Canadian neighbors.

An angry U.S. President Thomas Jefferson retaliated to widespread civil disobedience in border communities by sending troops here to stop the smuggling, enforce the Embargo Act and to prevent trade with British Canada.

Captains Samuel Cheney and Thomas Anderson were stationed at Ogdensburg to enforce the laws banning trade with British Canada and stop the smugglers. They and their troops were described by early Ogdensburgh residents “as the worst set of men that ever lived. They overstepped all bounds in searching the men and women who crossed the river. The community responded by organizing its own nightly patrol to protect their gardens and henroosts from the unwelcome American troops.

When news arrived that the soldiers were to be withdrawn, the community gathered on the streets to see them off. The residents serenaded them as they left town to the “discordant music of a hundred tin horns, with as many cow-bells, assisted in expressing the general satisfaction” at their departure.

Shortly after the troops left, David Parish, one of the wealthiest men in America, built a large stone store at the meeting place of the Oswegatchie River and the St. Lawrence River. When “Parish’s store” opened in 1809, it was the largest store on the St. Lawrence River in Northern New York, kind of the Wal Mart of its time. But with only 1,200 people living in Ogdensburg, most of Parish’s customers were the British Canadians living on the northern side of the river.

In 1812 when war broke out, American troops were dispatched to Ogdensburgh where they again discovered that its leading citizens were not only ignoring the trade embargo with Britain by supplying the Redcoats, but that British officers were being invited over for tea at Parish’s Mansion (now known as the Remington Museum).

In January, 1813, St. Lawrence County Court Judge Nathan Ford convicted Customs officers of assault for interfering with local smugglers. The judge wanted to send a strong message to federal authorities to leave local enterprising businessmen alone.

General Zebulon Pike (of Pike’s Peak fame) was furious with Ogdensburgh’s failure to obey the laws against trading with the enemy. After learning that many of the community’s leading citizens were profiting from their sales to the British Army, an enraged General Pike dispatched 40 soldiers from the American military base at Sackets Harbor to assist federal Customs officers enforce the law.

When the soldiers helped Customs officers arrest nine smugglers, Judge Ford retaliated, dismissing the charges against the Americans, arguing that the U.S. Army had no jurisdiction to arrest American citizens, much less enforce civilian laws.

Judge Ford issued warrants, arresting and jailed the two U.S. Army officers assigned by General Pike to crack down on the smugglers. Judge Ford brought the young officers before the court on charges of trespass, assault and false imprisonment of the smugglers.

General Pike and the civilian authorities responded by charging Judge Ford with treason, arresting him and taking him to New York City where he was interrogated.

But Judge Ford successfully argued that the Army had no role in enforcing civil laws against American civilians and that he, as the county judge, had a duty to protect American citizens from a federal and military dictatorship even during a time of war.

A stunned General Pike discovered that his superiors in Washington, D.C. had no stomach for a public fight with civilian authorities.

The charges against Judge Ford were thrown out. Judge Ford was hailed as a hero who had stood up for constitutional rights against a federal government and military that had run amok.

Ogdensburg later named Ford Street and Ford Avenue in his honor.

When the British invaded across the ice in February, 1813, David Parish’s store and his house were among the few that were not ransacked by British troops.

After the battle, Parish, who had loaned the U.S. government $7.5 million to finance the war at 7.5% percent interest, secretly brokered a deal that kept US troops out of Ogdensburgh for the rest of the war, allowing him to reopen his store so he could continue smuggling goods back and forth across the border. Ironically, years later the U.S. government acquired the store built by Ogdensburgh’s most famous smuggler to provide office space for the U.S. Customs. Today, the Robert C. McEwen Customs Building houses the U.S. Border Patrol.

James E. Reagen is a former managing editor of The Journal and Advance News. He is the author of “Warriors of La Presentation” and “Fort Oswegatchie.” He is currently employed by the New York State Senate.

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Potsdam’s James Allen: Hero Of Battle Of Crampton’s Gap

First published: August 21, 2014 at 1:41 am
Last modified: August 21, 2014 at 1:41 am
PRIVATE JAMES ALLEN 16TH NY INFANTRY

When Private James Allen found himself alone, outnumbered and surrounded by Confederate soldiers in Crampton’s Gap, Maryland, the Potsdam man knew his chances of survival were slim.

Cut off from the rest of the members of St. Lawrence County’s 16th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Private Allen knew it was only a matter of time before the soldiers from Georgia discovered that he was just one man with a musket, facing 14 southerners.

Private Allen decided his only hope was to demand that the southerners drop their weapons and surrender.

Allen was just one of the 15 men from St. Lawrence County awarded the Medal of Honor, America’s highest honor for valor and heroism, during the Civil War.

Born in Ireland, the 19-year-old had moved with his parents to Northern New York to seek their fortunes along with tens of thousands of other Irish immigrants who had come to the U.S. during the mid-1800s. When U.S. President Abraham Lincoln called on Americans to help save the Union, the 17-year-old young man had joined what became Company F of the 16th New York Infantry on April 24, 1861.

Like a lot of St. Lawrence County men, they had found themselves part of General George McLellan’s Army of the Potomac, assigned the task three months later of blocking Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s invasion after the disastrous Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861.

A year later, in September 1862, the New York 16th Infantry had been sent by General McLellan to South Mountain to wage the first major battle in Union held territory aimed at pushing Lee’s Confederates back from Union soil.

Historian John D. Hoptak wrote in the “Battle of South Mountain: Battlefield and Beyond” that it became a “a daylight battle, spread across many miles of rugged mountainous terrain where the Confederate rebels discovered a journey into union held territory would have to be purchased with the blood of men from both sides across miles of rugged mountain passes as the two sides slugged it out for control of several key mountain passes. Total casualties exceeded 5,000 men, killed, wounded, or captured , a number comparable to those lost at Bull Run.

“By day’s end, George McClellan and his Army of the Potomac emerged triumphant over their southern nemesis; their first major victory of the war. Conversely, and for the first time since he assumed army command three-and-a-half months earlier, General Robert E. Lee suffered a serious battlefield defeat. That night, in ordering a retreat from the mountain, Lee also decided to bring an end to his invasion of the Northern territory,” Hoptak wrote. “Lee’s retreat took him some eight miles westward across the Antietam Creek where he hoped to score a new victory on Union soil. As at South Mountain, however, here again Lee was defeated at the hands of McClellan and his victory-flushed Army of the Potomac.”

Allen and his comrades in the 16th New York found themselves facing the enemy in Crampton’s Gap. He and his brigade advanced towards the Rebel positions under cover of a hedge and cornfield, where they formed into line of battle and prepared to advance.

Historian Damon Shiels, the author of “The Irish in the Civil War,” wrote that the 16th New York “moved through the unharvested corn and towards the enemy who were positioned at the base of the mountain. They began to come under combined fire from Rebel artillery and infantry, with the latter located behind a stone wall and in a wood to their front. What became a forty-five minute firefight developed, and casualties began to mount. The regiment’s color-sergeant fell dead, shot through the forehead by a bullet. As the regiment realigned itself in the tall corn, Allen and one of his comrades named Richards became separated, and suddenly found themselves alone near the stone wall. Richards turned to the Irishman, asking “Now what have we to do, Jim?” Allen replied: “Charge the wall, I reckon. That was what we came for.”

“Behind enemy lines, Private Allen and his companion launched a daring charge against the rebels, startling them and forcing them out of their position when the southerners made the mistake of assuming they were a much larger force.

“They both charged forward at a group of Rebels behind the wall, who assumed the soldiers were part of a larger force. Much to the two Federals surprise, the enemy turned tail and fled. While pursuing the retreating Confederates Richards went down, struck with what would turn out to be a mortal wound in his left leg. Placing him against a tree, the Irishman continued to advance up the slope of the mountain. As the Rebels moved into the pass proper, one turned and fired, cutting Allen’s coat and shirt and grazing the skin of his right arm. Undeterred by his narrow escape, Allen stopped to load his gun and continue the fight. At this point the Irishman suddenly realized how horribly exposed he was. He quickly sought cover behind a wall that ran along the pass, behind which lay the enemy. There James Allen pondered his next move, one which would be the most important of his life. Retreat was not an option, as it would expose him to Confederate fire, and would make clear to the Rebels that they were being assailed by a solitary soldier. He saw only one possible way out.

“Allen decided that the best course of action was to continue to fool the Confederates into believing they faced superior numbers. In order to do this he had to maintain his confident display, and there was only one way to achieve this. No doubt after a deep intake of breadth, Allen threw himself over the wall and into the midst of the Confederates. Regaining his wits, he found himself confronted by 14 soldiers of the 16th Georgia Infantry. One of the men carried the regiment’s colors, and Allen determined to take it as a prize. He roared at the Rebels to surrender, doing so in such an authoritative and threatening manner that all the men complied. He retrieved the colors, and ordered his prisoners to stack their arms and remove their cartridge boxes. Once this was achieved, the Irishman quickly interposed himself between the Confederates and their weapons.

Allen and his Confederate prisoners were engaged in conversation when Colonel Joel J. Seaver, a former editor of the Malone Palladium newspaper before he enlisted in the 16th New York, rode up. The commanding officer sent for a detachment to take control of the prisoners, and Private Allen continued up the mountain with his unit, still carrying the enemy colors with him. The fighting for the day was concluded, and the young Irishman had successfully pulled off a masterstroke of deception. Seaver was impressed enough to mention the incident in his official report. James Allen continued to serve following his discharge from the 16th New York in 1863, spending the final two years of the war as a member of the military railroad service. However, nothing would match his experience of 14th September 1862.

James Allen was promoted to Corporal for his actions at Crampton’s Gap. Greater recognition was to follow on 11th September 1890, when the Irishman was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. His citation read: Single-handed and slightly wounded he accosted a squad of 14 Confederate soldiers bearing the colors of the 16th Georgia Infantry (C.S.A.). By an imaginary ruse he secured their surrender and kept them at bay when the regimental commander discovered him and rode away for assistance. After the war Allen moved to St. Paul, Minnesota where he lived at 173 South Wabasha Street, becoming a member of the Garfield Post of the Grand Army of the Republic.

The color he captured ended up in Washington, and in later life Allen made efforts to secure the flag as a family heirloom, even making representations to Congress in relation to it. The courageous Irishman lived into his seventies, passing away on 31st August, 1913. He is buried in Oakland Cemetery, St. Paul, Minnesota.

James E. Reagen is a former managing editor of The Journal and Advance News. He is the author of “Warriors of La Presentation” and “Fort Oswegatchie.” He is currently employed by the New York State Senate.

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Smugglers And Early Ogdensburg

First published: August 14, 2014 at 2:31 am
Last modified: August 14, 2014 at 2:31 am

EDITOR’S NOTE - The following article is the second in a two part series on Ogdensburg’s smugglers.

In 1919 when the U.S. Congress banned the manufacture or sale of beer and liquor, Ogdensburg’s traditional role as a home to smugglers resumed. Known as “Little Chicago” for its speakeasies, brothels and trade in illicit alcohol, many city residents made their fortune smuggling beer and liquor from Canada through Ogdensburg.

The late Mark Coakley once recalled that smugglers during Prohibition would sit in their boat out at Ogdensburg’s sandbar and wait for the lights to go out at the Customs station.

When the officers would leave for the night, they would unload their shipment of booze in a bread truck that would wait for the Border Patrol to leave before it would pull up to the shore to pick up a shipment.

The late Ray Kentner of Waddington recalled that a wagon that travelled from farm to farm on the Ogdensburg to Waddington road during prohibition actually carried a supply of liquor underneath a fake floor.

The late Jimmy Mills, former owner of The Place, said that the U.S. Border Patrol agents used to tip off the former owner of his bar before federal officers would conduct raids in Ogdensburg. Many of the federal agents used to drink at The Place so they made sure the owner knew ahead of time when they would be checking for illegal alcohol.

The Blue Church cemetery in Maitland, Ont., just a few miles west of Ogdensburg, reportedly has hollow grave stones where bottles of liquor were hidden. American bootleggers would land at the shore, sneak into the graveyard and unscrew metal plates covering the hidden compartments in the headstones to find the alcohol hidden by their Canadian colleagues.

The Greater Ogdensburg Chamber of Commerce advises scuba divers to be on the lookout for sunken cars and trucks littering the bottom of the St. Lawrence River that fell through the ice when smugglers drove them from Canada to the U.S. across the frozen St. Lawrence River, carrying loads of illicit booze.

Old timers in the city say that smugglers in small boats would sometimes hide in the cavity beneath the old stone Bell Flour Mill (next to the Maple City pedestrian bridge) until the Border Patrol’s boat had passed by and the coast was clear.

Bootleggers would sometimes fill wooden crates with bottles of liquor, salt and a flotation device. If federal agents looked like they were going to intercept their boat, they would throw the crate overboard and it would quickly sink to the bottom because of the weight of the salt. The federal agents would search the smugglers boat and find nothing while the water would dissolve the salt. When the crate bobbed back to the surface, the rum runner would be waiting to retrieve his illicit contraband.

Today, scuba divers still find bottles of Canadian liquor and beer littering the bottom of the St. Lawrence River.

By the 1940s and 1950s, the rumrunners were gone, but Ogdensburg’s reputation as the “sin city” of Northern New York was still intact. With more bars than churches and most of them lining the waterfront, Canadians from across Ontario would use the ferry to travel here and party on weekends.

Many of the bars, stores and civic clubs operated illegal slot machines and offered other kinds of gambling.

The late City Councilor Robert Russell said that as a taxi driver in his youth, he supplemented his wages by selling condoms to his customers visiting the city’s brothels.

By 1951, Ogdensburg’s reputation had grown so bad that New York Governor Thomas Dewey asked the New York State Crime Commission to launch a massive investigation that eventually led to state police raids and the arrests of several leading citizens.

If you have a story about Ogdensburg’s smuggling days, e-mail it to jimreagen1@gmail.com.

James E. Reagen is a former managing editor of The Journal and Advance News. He is the author of “Warriors of La Presentation” and “Fort Oswegatchie.” He is currently employed by the New York State Senate.

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Washington Irving Journeys To Ogdensburg

First published: August 07, 2014 at 2:25 am
Last modified: August 07, 2014 at 2:46 am

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is Part 2 of a two-part column.

In 1803, Washington Irving, one of early America’s most famous authors, wrote about his journey through the wilderness of upstate New York to visit Ogdensburg when it was just an outpost on New York’s northern frontier.

In the “Life and Letters of Washington Irving” written by his nephew Pierre Irving, Irving described his wilderness expedition to Ogdensburg, Montreal, and Quebec.

“We were six miles from Oswegatchie River, which we would have to cross. This would have been a troublesome business had not Judge (Nathan) Ford, of Oswegatchie, received notice of our coming, and sent men to make a raft and assist us in crossing. On crossing the river, we found a couple of horses waiting to take some of us to the Judge’s.

Mr. Hoffman and Mr. Ogden each mounted one of them, and Mrs. Hoffman and Mrs. Ogden rode behind them. I stayed behind to travel on in the wagon with the girls.

This part of the journey seemed more tedious than any, so near the end, and yet obliged to travel no faster than the lazy pace of oxen. At last, to our great joy, we came in sight of Oswegatchie. The prospect that opened upon us was delightful. After riding through thick woods for several days, the sight of a beautiful and extensive tract of country is inconceivably enlivening. Close beside the bank on which we rode, the Oswegatchie wound along, about twenty feet below us. After running for some distance it entered into the St. Lawrence, forming a long point of land on which stood a few houses called the Garrison, which had formerly been a fortified place, built by the French to keep

the Indians in awe. They were now tumbling in ruins, excepting two or three, which were still kept intolerable order by Judge Ford, who resided in one of them, and used the others as stores and out-houses. We recrossed the Oswegatchie River to the Garrison, as we intended to reside with Judge Ford for some time.”

The interval spent by the young traveller on the St. Lawrence was divided between Oswegatchie, Lisbon, one of Mr. Hoffman’s townships, ten or twelve miles further down the river, and Madrid, at a still greater’ distance, where lay the lands of Mr. Ogden. His sports would seem to have been fishing and shooting, while in the last entry but one of his journal, which breaks off at this point, we have this hint of recreation of another kind:

August 29th. “Hired a horse to take me to Lisbon, where Mr. Hoffman was. Arrived about one o’clock, and found him surrounded by tenants, and hard at work. Amused myself the rest of the day writing bonds and deeds.”

It was at Lisbon that he encountered his first rude experience of savage life. I give the anecdote as I have heard it from himself. He was staying at the house of Mr. Turner, Mr. Hoffman’s agent, with whose son he had rowed to a small island to hire a bateau to take the travellers down the river. At the wigwam where they expected to engage the boat they found a number of persons of both sexes, but the Indian of whom they were in quest was absent selling furs.

He soon came home, however, rather tipsy, accompanied by his wife, a pretty-looking squaw, whose potations also had been somewhat liberal. The latter seated herself beside Irving, and, either attracted by his personal appearance, or hoping to cajole from him a fresh draught of the fiery beverage, began to show him much nattering attention.

The husband, a tall, strapping Hercules, sat scowling at them with his blanket drawn up to his chin, and his face between his hands, while his elbows rested on his knees. In this posture he watched the pair for some time, until at length the continued assiduities of his wife becoming too much for his patience, he suddenly rushed upon Irving, calling him a “ damned Yankee,” and with a blow levelled

him to the floor.

Taken by surprise, and utterly unconscious of offence, the young traveller jumped up, and asked the meaning of this strange salutation. “He is jealous,” hinted one of the company. Perceiving that he was feeling for his knife, Irving, retreating, requested the men to hold the savage, evidently maddened by drink, and young Turner immediately went up to him, when a sudden revulsion of feeling ensued. He and the Indian had exchanged names, and were therefore sworn friends. The savage hugged him in his arms, called him “ good fellow” and other endearing names, “ but he,” said he, glaring again with eyes of ominous ferocity at his companion, “he damned Yankee.” Apprehending further violence, Turner intimated to Irving that he had better escape to the boat, and he would follow which he was glad enough to do.

This adventure was a capital joke for Hoffman, who was never weary of quizzing his student on the subject of his delicate attentions to the squaw.

Proceeding in their bateau to Montreal the party stopped at Caughnawaga, where they were received in great state by the Indians.

Here Hoffman, in a spirit of frolic, persuaded them to go through the ceremonial of exchanging names with Irving, or of giving him a name to the great annoyance of the former, and the infinite diversion of the ladies, who stood at the door enjoying the scene with undisguised unction.

The ceremony was novel, and to the object of it extremely embarrassing, as one of the chiefs or principal Indians took him by the hand, led him out into the middle of the room, then commenced a sort of Indian waltz, turning slowly round with him to a low chant, while the others

would look gravely on, and every now and then strike in with a monosyllabic chorus, “Ugh! ugh!”

The solemn gravity of the Indians and the merriment of the lookers-on formed quite a ludicrous contrast. The chant concluded, the chief made him a formal and deferential speech, and gave him his name, which was Vomonte, meaning, as interpreted to him, Good to everybody.

It was now Irving’s turn to have his fan, and as soon as the Indian had concluded, he told him he had made a great mistake in conferring this distinction on him ; that he was but an insignificant individual to be so highly honoured; but that the other, pointing to Hoffman, had been Attorney General of the State of New York, and was much more worthy of this great distinction than himself; that he would feel it an abatement of his dignity if they honoured an obscure stripling in this way, and passed by so illustrious a personage.

Nothing would do, therefore, but they must march Hoffman out, and go through the same parade with him, to the great amusement of the ladies, and the irrepressible glee of Irving, who had felt too keenly the rueful dignity of the situation in his own case, not to enjoy it with the highest relish when the tables were turned. Hoffman’s name was Citrovani, or Shining Man.

At Montreal, which was the great emporium of the fur trade, the party was feted in genial style by some of the partners of the North-West Fur Company. “At their hospitable board,” says Mr. Irving, in his introduction to Astoria, including in his allusion two later visits, “I occasionally met partners and clerks and hardy fur traders from the interior posts; men who had passed years remote from civilized society, among distant and savage tribes, and who had wonders to recount of their wide and wild peregrinations, their hunting exploits, and their perilous adventures and hairbreadth escapes among the Indians. I was at an age when the imagination lends its colouring to everything, and the stories of these Sinbads of the wilderness made the life of a trapper and fur trader perfect romance to me.”

Here he made the acquaintance of his life-long friend, Henry Brevoort, a native and resident of New York, but then on a visit of business or pleasure to Montreal.

It was not until a lapse of fifty years that Mr. Irving made a second visit to Oswegatchie, now Ogdensburg, and I cannot resist the temptation to take from its place the letter which gives the touching contrast. On a return from a tour by the Lakes to Niagara, he writes to a niece at Paris (Mrs. Storrow):

September 19, 1853.

One of the most interesting circumstances of my tour was the sojourn of a day at Ogdensburg, at the mouth of the Oswegatchie River, where it empties into the St. Lawrence. I had not been there since I visited it fifty years since, in 1803, when I was but twenty years of age ; when I made an expedition through the Black River country to Canada in company with Mr. and Mrs. Hoffman, and Anne Hoffman, Mr. and Mrs. Ludlow Ogden and Miss Eliza Ogden. Mr. Hoffman and Mr. Ogden were visiting their wild lands on the St. Lawrence.

All the country then was a wilderness ; we floated down the Black River in a scow; we toiled through forests in wagons drawn by oxen; we slept in hunters’ cabins, and were once four-and-twenty hours without food ; but all was romance to me.

Arrived on the banks of the St. Lawrence we put up at Mr. Ogden’ s agent, who was quartered in some rude buildings belonging to a ruined French fort at the mouth of the Oswegatchie. What happy days I passed there! rambling about the woods with the young ladies; or paddling with them in Indian canoes on the limpid waters of the St. Lawrence; or fishing about the rapids and visiting the Indians, who still lived on islands in the river. Everything was so grand and so silent and solitary. I don’t think any scene in life made a more delightful impression upon me.

Well here I was again after a lapse of fifty years. I found a populous city occupying both banks of the Oswegatchie, connected by bridges. It was the Ogdensburg, of which a village plot had been planned at the time of our visit. I sought the old French fort, where we had been quartered not a trace of it was left. I sat under a tree on the site and looked round upon what I had known as a wilderness now teeming with life crowded with habitations the Oswegatchie River dammed up and encumbered by vast stone mills the broad St. Lawrence ploughed by immense steamers.

I walked to the point where, with the two girls, I used to launch forth in the canoe, while the rest of the party would wave handkerchiefs and cheer us from shore; it was now a bustling landing- place for steamers.

There were still some rocks where I used to sit of an evening and accompany with my flute one of the ladies who sang.

I sat for a long time on the rocks, summoning recollections of bygone days, and of the happy beings by whom I was then surrounded. All had passed away all were dead and gone.

Of that young and joyous party I was the sole survivor. They had all lived quietly at home out of the reach of mischance, yet had gone down to their graves; while I, who had been wandering about the world exposed to all hazards by sea and land, was yet alive. It seemed almost marvellous. I have often, in my shifting about the world, come upon the traces of former existence; but I do not think anything has made a stronger impression on me than this second visit to the Banks of the Oswegatchie.

James E. Reagen is a former managing editor of The Journal and Advance News. He is the author of “Warriors of La Presentation” and “Fort Oswegatchie.” He is currently employed by the New York State Senate.

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Washington Irving’s 1803 City Visit To Ogdensburgh

First published: July 31, 2014 at 2:03 am
Last modified: July 31, 2014 at 2:33 am

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is Part 1 of a two-part column.

Washington Irving earned literary fame as one of America’s most famous early authors with best selling short stories like “Rip Van Winkle” (1819) and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (1820) that offered glimpses into life in the Hudson Valley.

But his works also offered detailed accounts of his travels, including a description of one of his earliest expeditions to Ogdensburgh when it was still just a small outpost on the edge of the New York frontier.

In 1803, the first American pioneer families had only begun carving homes out of the wilderness just seven years after the last British troops had been grudgingly withdrawn from Fort Oswegatchie after the Jay Treaty established that the south side of the St. Lawrence River would be part of New York State.

Irving had agreed to accompany Josiah Ogden Hoffman, a prominent New York City attorney and former New York State Attorney General, on a trip into the upstate wilderness to visit the properties purchased by the Ogden family.

In the “Life and Letters of Washington Irving” written by his nephew Pierre Irving, Irving described his wilderness expedition to Ogdensburg, Montreal, and Quebec.

Today, a trip from New York City to Ogdensburg, Montreal and Quebec can be traveled in less than 24-hours.

In 1803, such a journey was a formidable undertaking at that early day, and involved difficulties, discomforts, and trials of patience, of which the modern tourist can have no idea. Indeed, could the travellers themselves have foreseen the fatigues and hardships they would have to encounter, it is certain their enterprise would not have been equal to the trial.

Pierre Irving’s account follows:

“Without, however, any just knowledge or appreciation of its labours or privations, the party of seven, Mr. and Mrs. Hoffman, Mr. and Mrs. Ludlow Ogden, Miss Eliza Ogden, Miss Ann Hoffman, and himself, found themselves, on the 31st of July, 1803, on board a sloop bound for Albany.

From that place they proceeded to Ballston and Saratoga Springs, and thence, Irving making a flying visit to Johnstown by the way, to the modern city of Utica, then a village unconscious of the sound of a “churchgoing bell.” From this point they were to diverge to Ogdensburg, or Oswegatchie, as it was then, called, on the St. Lawrence River, where Hoffman and Ogden owned some wild lands, and proposed to lay out a town.

Irving kept a journal of the expedition from New York to Ogdensburg, which was struck off in the midst of hurry and fatigue, and of course is very carelessly written; but it has an interest independent of any literary value, as a picture of travel in those early days of our country.

On Monday, August 9th, they set off from Utica for the High Falls, on Black River, in two wagons, having despatched another with the principal part of their baggage.

The roads were bad, and lay either through thick woods, or by fields disfigured with burnt stumps and fallen bodies of trees. The next day they grew worse, and the travellers were frequently obliged to get out of the wagon and walk.

At High Falls, they embarked in a scow on the Black River, so called from the dark colour of its waters; but soon the rain began to descend in torrents, and they sailed the whole afternoon and evening under repeated showers, from which they were but partially screened by sheets stretched on hoop poles. About twenty-five miles below the Falls they went ashore, and found lodgings for the night at a log-house, on beds spread on the floor. The next morning it cleared off beautifully, and they set out again in their boat. On turning a point in the river, they were surprised by loud shouts which proceeded from two or three canoes in full pursuit of a deer which was swimming in the water. A gun was soon after fired, and they rowed with all their might to get in at the death.

“The deer made for our shore,” says the journal. “We pushed ashore immediately, and as it passed, Mr. Ogden fired and wounded it. It had been wounded before. I threw off my coat, and prepared to swim after it. As it came near, a man rushed through the bushes, sprang into the water, and made a grasp at the animal. He missed his aim, and I jumping after, fell on his back, and sunk him under water. At the same time I caught the deer by one ear, and Mr. Ogden seized it by a leg. The submerged gentleman, who had risen above water, got hold of another.

We drew it ashore, when the man immediately despatched it with a knife. We claimed a haunch for our share, permitting him to keep all the rest.

In the evening we arrived at B ‘s, at the head of the Long Falls. A dirtier house was never seen. We dubbed it “The Temple of Dirt;” but we contrived to have our venison cooked in a cleanly manner by Mr. Ogden’s servant, and it made very fine steaks, which after two days’ living on crackers and gingerbread were highly acceptable.

Friday, August 13th. “We prepared to leave the Temple of Dirt, and set out about sixty miles through the woods to Oswegatchie. We ate an uncomfortable breakfast, for indeed it was impossible to relish anything in a house so completely filthy.

The landlady herself was perfectly in character with the house; a little squat French woman, with a red face, a black wool hat stuck upon her head, her hair, greasy and uncombed, hanging about her ears, and the rest of her dress and person in similar style. We were heartily glad to make an escape.”

The journal omits to mention, that just before they started, the young traveller took out his pencil, and scribbled over the fireplace the following memorial:

“Here Sovereign Dirt erects her sable throne, The house, the host, the hostess all her own.”

In a subsequent year, when Mr. Hoffman was passing the same way with Judge Cooper, the father of the distinguished novelist, James Fenimore Cooper, he pointed out this memento of his student, still undetected and uneffaced; whereupon the Judge, whose longer experience in frontier travel had probably raised him above the qualms of over-nicety, immediately wrote under it this doggerel inculcation:

“Learn hence, young man, and teach it to your sons, The wisest way’s to take it as it comes.”

They set off again “in caravan style,” two wagons for themselves, and another, drawn by oxen, for the luggage. They found the road dreadfully rugged and miry. The horses could not go off a walk in any part.

The road had not been made above a year, and the stumps and roots of trees stood in every direction. At night they put up at a small hut consisting of but one room, which, however, the hostess, by the sagacious expedient of stretching a long blanket across, managed to divide into two.

“On one side,” says the journal, “we spread our mattress for the ladies, and great-coats, blankets, &c. for ourselves. The other side was left for the drivers,” &c.

The next day the wagon in which Irving and some of the ladies were riding stuck fast, and one of the horses laid down, and refused to move. They had therefore to get out and travel after the other wagon, into which the ladies mounted; but soon that also mired, and there was no alternative but for them to take to their feet. “The rain by this time,” proceeds the journal, “descended in torrents. In several parts of the road I had been up to my middle in mud and water, and it was equally bad, if not worse, to attempt to walk in the woods on either side.

We helped the ladies to a little shed of bark laid on crotches, about large enough to hold three, where they sat down. It had been a night’s shelter to some hunter, but in this case it afforded no protection. One-half of it fell down as we were creeping under it, and though we spread greatcoats over the other, they might as well have been in the open air. The rain now fell in the greatest quantity I had ever seen. The wind blew a perfect hurricane. The trees around shook and bent in the most alarming manner, and threatened every moment to fall and crush us. The ladies were in the highest state of alarm, and entreated that we should walk to a house which we were told was about half a mile distant.”

“They therefore dragged along, and after a most painful walk arrived at the hut, which consisted of one room about eighteen by sixteen feet. In this small apartment, fifteen people were to pass the night; for besides the owner, they found here two men who were driving an ox-team through to Oswegatchie, both noisy and boisterous, and one of them stigmatized in the journal as “the most impudent, chattering, forward scoundrel” the writer had ever known. There was much noisy greeting between these and the drivers, and, to add to the confusion of the scene, they soon seated themselves in a corner, and “began to play cards for liquor;” an amusement from which they retired after a while almost intoxicated, and stretched themselves on the floor to sleep.

“I never,” says the journal, “passed so dreary a night in my life. The rain poured down incessantly, and I was frequently obliged to hold up an umbrella to prevent its beating through the roof on the ladies as they slept. I was awake almost all night, and several times heard the crash of the falling trees, and two or three times the long dreary howl of a wolf.”

On resuming their route the next day, they found it impossible to travel the road with horses, and they were therefore compelled to engage the men to take their baggage through in their ox-cart, while the ladies rode in the oxwagon which had hitherto held their luggage, and the gentlemen proceeded on foot.

“About eleven o’clock,” says the journal, “we reached a Mrs. Vroman’s, a widow, who, with her two daughters, lived in a log hut on the banks of Indian River. Here we stopped to get some bread, a tea-kettle, and other articles, as we expected to pass the night in the woods, the next hut being too far off for us to reach that day. Having procured the articles we wanted we continued our route.”

Another fatiguing day’s journey of eleven miles through the mud brought them at evening to their intended quarters. “This was a rude kind of hovel, about ten feet square, formed of logs for the temporary accommodation of hunters.” In this forlorn cabin they endeavoured to make themselves as comfortable as possible for the night, by stretching “sheets over the sides to keep out the cold air,” and spreading boughs on the floor, and laying “the mattress on one part, and greatcoats, &c. over another.” The next day the travelling was the same as the day before, through deep mud-holes, over stumps and stones, and they were obliged at times to cut their way through fallen trees.

At length the day’s jolting brought them in sight of the house where they were to find supper and lodgings for the night; “and no sight could have been more pleasing,” he records, “as we were half famished.” They had been without food during the day.

On the following day they had fourteen miles to go before reaching Oswegatchie, where all fatigues and hardships would soon be forgotten in the hospitality that awaited them. I conclude my extracts from the journal with the account of this day’s travel.

James E. Reagen is a former managing editor of The Journal and Advance News. He is the author of “Warriors of La Presentation” and “Fort Oswegatchie.” He is currently employed by the New York State Senate.

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Early Ogdesnburg Battles Plagues

First published: July 24, 2014 at 1:44 am
Last modified: July 24, 2014 at 1:44 am

For the village of Ogdensburgh in the 1830s, diseases and epidemics were mysterious plagues that could sweep through a community with residents helpless to prevent the death and misery they left in their path.

In an age before science, medicine, sanitation or even an understanding of how diseases could be treated or prevented, the communities early leaders struggled to protect their fellow residents as best as they could.

In 1832, Ogdensburgh found that it’s unique status as a major port on the St. Lawrence River could be a mixed blessing at a time when international shipping could also bring diseases along with cargoes across the ocean.

When an intercontinental plague of cholera spread from Asia and across Europe, communities across the eastern seaboard of North America discovered that the ocean could not protect them from foreign epidemics.

An article published by the Northern New York Hospital Library Program and Samaritan Medical Center’s newsletter describes how Dr. Socrates Norton Sherman fought one of the community’s first epidemics.

Dr. Sherman was one of Ogdensburgh’s leading doctors and also served as the public health officer for the village.

In June of 1832, news reports had arrived that cholera had crossed the Atlantic Ocean and was sweeping through the streets of Quebec City and Montreal, leaving a trail of death, especially in the slums.

For physicians of the era, what passed for modern “medical” treatment usually involved “bleeding” the sick or making them drink a mixture of mercury and chloride, a poisonous compound that would make the sick person violently ill until they threw up the “impurities” polluting their bodies.

Doctors were convinced that the compound could help people rid themselves of disease even if it also sometimes caused the patient’s hair and teeth to fall out if too much was administered.

Public health measures involved cleaning streets that were often littered with human and horse excrement, tearing down slums and quarantining the sick to keep them away from the healthy.

“The village of Ogdensburg established quarantine grounds, first at the mouth of the Oswegatchie and later at Mile Point. On June 18th, the first case was recorded at Ogdensburg.

Officials estimated that in the early part of June somewhere between 100 and 150 Ogdensburg residents were in the Montreal and Quebec vicinity either in boats or rafts or otherwise occupied in some business enterprise in the two cities. Amazingly, as far as is known, not one of these individuals was to suffer from the disease,” the article reported. “The first death was of a resident Frenchman, according to Dr. Sherman, “of dissipated habits and broken down constitution,” who testified before his death that he had not left Ogdensburg for several weeks. The second death was a four-year-old child, the third another Frenchman, the fourth near one of the wharves. Once the disease appeared, cases appeared in rapid succession, perplexing the medical community by their location in sites remote from each other. A total of 160 cases were reported, 49 of which were fatal. Reappearing in 1834, ten cases were reported with seven deaths.

“Also stricken in 1832 was the village of St. Regis, north of Massena. Dr. Bates of Fort Covington, who attended to the sick of the village, reported that about 340 residents had the disease which raged through the village during only eleven days. Seventy-eight died. In one family of eleven, only one survived. Friends and family became so frightened that they fled, leaving the sick to die unattended. Mourning for the dead ceased,” the article said. “Reports of the pestilence reached neighboring villages and the militia was called to guard the road to Hogansburg, only two miles away. The epidemic was confined to the area near the river and few cases were reported in nearby villages.”

“The second epidemic, occurring in 1854, was equally severe. According to Dr. Robert Morris, at the time the Ogdensburg City Health Officer, the disease arrived in July of that year with

the case of a middle-aged woman, who had become ill on passage on a ship from Montreal. She was taken to an inn where she died within a few hours. Five days later the innkeeper died, followed shortly by the woman who was responsible for washing clothes at the inn,” the article reported. “Within ten days of its introduction there would be 15 deaths on one block from the disease. Again the medical community was perplexed by the disease’s intermittent nature and how on its reappearance it would appear miles distant from the last case. Dr. Morris observed that of the 105 deaths from the epidemic, only seven occurred in families who lived in “favorable sanitary conditions,” most occurring in “rudely constructed hovels” built for railroad employees and construction workers employed in a project to improve the harbor. In April 1855, village trustees received a petition asking, “the shanties on the land of George Parish, Esq. on Washington St., be removed.” The inhabitants of the infected localities were relocated and their

housing burned to the ground. Few cases were reported after this event.”

Over 150,000 Americans died of cholera during the 1832 and 1854 cholera pandemics.

By 1866, American medical thinking had recognized that cholera was actually spread by contaminated water supplies. Public health officials had learned from those thousands of deaths that “disinfecting the bedding, clothing and excreta of the diseased could stop the epidemic.”

In 1860, Dr. Sherman was elected to the U.S. Congress as a Republican along with President Abraham Lincoln on a platform opposing slavery.

When the Civil War broke out, Dr. Sherman responded to Lincoln’s call to save the Union by enlisting with the 34th New York Regiment while still serving in Congress. The Biographical Dictionary of the Union: Northern Leaders of the Civil War wrote that with his regiment stationed for the first year near Washington, D.C., Major Sherman used his congressional position to obtain better medical care for the troops, higher pay to attract more surgeons and professional nursing staffs to care for the injured.

As a physician serving in the field with the troops, his colleagues in Congress listened closely to his recommendations, implementing many of his recommendations.

Dr. Sherman used the knowledge he had gained from battling epidemics in Ogdensburgh to impose sanitary measures on the Union troops, reducing the number suffering from diseases.

In June, 1862, Major Sherman had to give up his congressional activities when his regiment went into action He served with the regiment at Antietam, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg.

In 1862, he gave up his seat in Congress to continue serving in the military. He worked as the surgeon in charge at the military hospital in West Virginia until the end of the war, leaving with the rank of colonel.

Dr. Sherman was an early supporter of the public school system at a time when free education for the masses was considered a radical notion. He fought for the construction of Ogdensburg’s first public school in 1849. He served as the first superintendent of schools and was known as the “father of the public school system in Ogdensburg.”

Sherman School was named in his honor for his service as one of Ogdensburg’s school board members.

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Ogdensburg: A boom town on the eve of the Civil War

First published: July 10, 2014 at 2:28 am
Last modified: July 10, 2014 at 2:28 am

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following in the second part of a column concerning Ogdensburg in the mid-1850s, the first part of which was published last week.

A little over 150 years ago, Ogdensburgh had grown from a rough frontier settlement on the edge of the wilderness to one of Northern New York’s major commercial centers.

The arrival of the railroad meant that communities on the Great Lakes could ship goods by water to Ogdensburgh. Before the construction of the Seaway, 40 miles of rapids between Ogdensburg and Massena blocked ships from sailing east of Ogdensburgh.

Just 11 years later, in 1861, on the eve of the Civil War, Ogdensburgh was one of upstate New York’s success stories.

Historian and author Harry F. Landon described Ogdensburgh in the 1850s in his book: The North Country: A History Embracing Jefferson, St. Lawrence, Oswego. Lewis and Franklin Counties, New York.

Landon’s description follows:

“The Oswegatchie Bank had just been organized, not only the oldest bank in Ogdensburg but also the oldest in St. Lawrence county, with Augustus Chapman the first president and James G. Averell the first vice president. On the board of directors was Henry Van Rensselaer, the land owner and son of the Patroon, who was then one of Ogdensburg’s most influential residents.

“Ogdensburg had its prominent men. There was Preston King, prominent in the affairs of the nation, now hard at it organizing the new Republican party, he who had been a life-long Democrat. Then there was Judge John Fine, as well known a jurist as there was in the New York State of his day, eighteen years on the bench, a former member of the state senate, long treasurer of St. Lawrence county and the man who stood up in the Baltimore convention of 1844 and declined the nomination of president of the United States for Silas Wright. David Judson was another prominent citizen of his day, for eleven years one of the judges of the county court and for many years more collector of the (U.S. Customs) district of Ogdensburg.

“Of course there was no house in all Ogdensburg to be compared with the Parish mansion, the Red Villa, (now the Remington Art Museum) as the townsfolk called it. Three stories high, it was, and painted a dull red. Around it ran a stone wall eight feet high and inside that wall, which enclosed a whole city block, were all those things which go with an English gentleman’s estate, cobbled courts and brick stables, coach-houses and a tan-bark track, trellised gardens, and gardener’s lodge and gravelled walks.

“On the whole Ogdensburg was a cozy, hospitable place in the fifties and attractive, too, laid out as it was along the banks of the broad St. Lawrence. There was Ford street with its roofed sidewalks where the farmers’ horses lazily munched their oats. Old stone warehouses which still bore the scars of British shot stood near the river front.

The population was largely of old New England stock but with a sprinkling of Irish and French attracted there by the commerce. It was a frontier village of course and perhaps a little raw, viewed from modern standards, but although it had lost the county buildings to Canton still it was by far the largest place in the North Country north of Watertown. And how it progressed in the fifties, with the coming of the railroad and the telegraph and the gas lights. So Ogdensburg became a city, not as early as Oswego and Watertown, it is true, but, in 1868 after the boys in blue had marched home and the Fenian raids were a thing of the past the City of Ogdensburg was incorporated and William C. Brown was elected the first mayor. Delos McCurdy was the first recorder and the following aldermen were elected: First ward, Charles I. Baldwin, Walter B. Allen, Henry Redee; second ward, Benjamin R. Jones, Galem W. Pearsons, Patrick Hackett; third ward, Carlisle B. Herriman, Urias Pearson, Chester Waterman. Nathaniel H. Lytle was elected city clerk.

“In 1857 the New York Reformer, published at Watertown, printed a series of four articles on the wealthy men of the Northern New York of that day. George Parish of Ogdensburg, according to the Reformer, was easily the richest man in the north and one of the wealthiest men in the country. His fortune was estimated at six million dollars, truly a remarkable fortune for that day. Henry Van Renssalaer of Ogdensburg, son of the patroon, and a large land owner, was estimated to be worth $800,000.”

James Sterling of Sterlingville, the iron master, who operated mines in northern Jefferson and Southern St. Lawrence counties had $400,000. James Averill of Ogdensburg was credited with being worth $400,000, made largely in land speculation. E. G. Merrick, who at one time operated forty-nine boats in the lake trade, was said to be worth approximately a half a million.

David C. Judson of Ogdensburg was said to be worth $200,000 and George N. Seymour, Ogdensburg merchant, about the same amount.

Augustus Chapman of Morristown was credited with having made $300,000 in land dealings. Solomon Pratt was said to have accumulated $100,000 as a merchant in Somerville, St. Lawrence county. Henry Barnard of Morristown was said to be worth about a half a million.

The country was rapidly filling up. Plank roads run through the most thickly settled areas. The railroad took passengers from Watertown to Rome and from Ogdensburg to Malone in a few hours where formerly it had been an all day trip in a stage coach. Telegraph lines connected the principal towns. Gas lighted the streets and stores of a few of the largest villages. Water systems brought better fire protection and all the larger villages purchased fire engines. With better fire protection came larger and more costly buildings and with better transportation facilities came large-scale manufacturing.

This was the North Country of 1861, when Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States.

James E. Reagen is a former managing editor of The Journal and Advance News. He is the author of “Warriors of La Presentation” and “Fort Oswegatchie.” He is currently employed by the New York State Senate.

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A look at 1861 Ogdensburgh on the eve of the Civil War

First published: July 03, 2014 at 1:54 am
Last modified: July 03, 2014 at 1:54 am

A little over 150-years ago, Ogdensburgh had grown from a rough frontier settlement on the edge of the wilderness to one of Northern New York’s major commercial centers.

The community’s major business leaders, led by former U.S. Congressman Henry Bell Van Rensselaer, pooled their money to construct a railroad across Northern New York from Vermont to Ogdensburgh.

The arrival of the first train on Sept. 26, 1850 transformed the community, providing a way for area farmers and businesses to ship goods to the East Coast.

The arrival of the railroad meant that communities on the Great Lakes could ship goods by water to Ogdensburgh. Before the construction of the Seaway, 40 miles of rapids between Ogdensburg and Massena blocked ships from sailing east of Ogdensburgh.

Just 11 years later, in 1861, on the eve of the Civil War, Ogdensburgh was one of upstate New York’s success stories.

Historian and author Harry F. Landon described Ogdensburgh in the 1850s in his book: The North Country: A History Embracing Jefferson, St. Lawrence, Oswego. Lewis and Franklin Counties, New York.

Landon’s description follows:

“Ogdensburg was a waterfront town. As the first life of the village had centered about George Parish’s big stone warehouse at the river’s edge so now in the fifties Ogdensburg still looked to the river, where now thousands of feet of wharfage had been built and elaborate warehouses and other terminal structures had been built by the proprietors of the Northern Railroad. Daily the great boats of the St. Lawrence Steamboat Company, with their thirty-foot paddle wheels, steamed slowly up to the new wharves. Before the Northern Railroad had been built, the Oswego boat always awaited the arrival of the Syracuse train at Oswego before leaving that port and there were always passengers to alight when the Northerner or the Ontario or the Bay State or the British Empire, or some other boat, docked at Ogdensburg.

“Jean Jacques Ampere, accomplished man of letters who visited Ogdensburg in 1851, wrote a graphic description of the town of that day as it appeared to him. ‘We have here,’ he writes, ‘the transition from a village to a great city — the skin of the chrysalis still covering the butterfly which just begins to open its wings . . . In this expanding city everything is new and unfinished. In German they would say it is going to be. It is like a house, where they begin to furnish a room before the roof is finished. Imagine broad, straight, and well laid-out streets; in their midst a black mud-on the borders, plank walks; here and there ravines with groups of trees that belonged to primeval forests; fields scarcely enclosed, with an abandoned look, as if not yet taken up, or yet to be cultivated, and on every hand beautiful gardens and elegant cottages, with every appliance of the most refined civilization — on a place cleared but yesterday, and close beside an unimproved waste. Some cows were straying along the street, near a store of novelties, where the fashion plates of the Journal du Modes were displayed in the windows, by the side of portraits of members of the local government; and bales of merchandize lay in the streets among the trunks of overturned trees. It was a strange mingling of departing savagery and of industries yet to come. In these carefully alligned and half-filled streets, we see at once the rudeness of primeval life, and the rising splendors of the orient; for they have got the idea that this city which they are building, will be a great one.’

“Ogdensburg at this time had about 4,000 inhabitants. It was no insignificant place, with nearly 500 dwelling houses and some eighty stores and shops displaying goods from Montreal and often linens and woolens from abroad. A steam ferry was running between Ogdensburg and the quaint, little Canadian village of Prescott, and many Canadians came across the river to shop in Ogdensburg even as they do today. Most of the travelers stopped at the St. Lawrence Hotel at the corner of State and Ford streets to which a four-story addition had just been built. Here there were eighty-six sleeping rooms and on the roof an ‘observatory’ from which there was a splendid view of the Canadian shore for many a mile.

“There were five churches, all substantial structures, the latest being the large, stone Roman Catholic church, which had been dedicated in 1855. This was the present St. Mary’s Cathedral and when completed it was considered the handsomest Catholic church in all Northern New York. Then there was St. John’s Episcopal Church with its high, square tower and its organ, the Gothic edifice of the Presbyterians with the clock in its steeple, the new brick church of the Methodists on Franklin street and the stone church of the Baptists in State street.”

To be continued next week.

James E. Reagen is a former managing editor of The Journal and Advance News. He is the author of “Warriors of La Presentation” and “Fort Oswegatchie.” He is currently employed by the New York State Senate.

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