I’ve been researching the Hasbrouck Family for close to twenty years. During that time, I’ve spent most of my time exploring and writing about Colonel Jonathan Hasbrouck. His home, located in Newburgh, is famous for being the headquarters of General George Washington from 1782-1783 and today it’s a state historic site.
An often overlooked member of this family is Jonathan’s oldest brother, Abraham. During his long life, Abraham kept a diary and because of this journal, we know a lot about Jonathan and his family, as well as the events (and even notable weather) of his time.
There are several copies of Abraham Hasbrouck’s diary. Some sources report that the original diary has been lost, and some that Henry Sharpe was the last person to have the original manuscript.
Perhaps the two most popular transcriptions are The New York Genealogical and Biographical Society’s, and one that appears in the Kenneth E. Hasbrouck Sr.’s mammoth genealogy on the Hasbrouck family in America, purportedly a version owned by Joseph E. Hasbrouck of Modena. One of the difficulties when working with these various documents is that transcribers sometimes omitted parts of the diary, while others corrected spellings, and in some cases, added their own words.
One aspect of the Hasbrouck diary that receives little attention is the personal ordeals that Abraham Hasbrouck. Hasbrouck wrote that he was born in 1707, in Guilford, New York, just outside of New Paltz in Ulster County. He was the grandson of one of the founders of New Paltz, who shared the same name. In order to differentiate the many Abrahams, the founder of New Paltz is known by local historians as the “Abraham the Patentee,” a reference to the patent (land grant) that he helped secure. Abraham the Patentee’s family had fled Europe because of religious persecution (they were Protestants in a largely Catholic country) and they arrived in Esopus in the 1670s, settling at what became New Paltz. His first son Joseph married Elsie Schoonmaker in 1706, shortly after securing a large grant of land in Guilford. Abraham Hasbrouck, the keeper of diary, was their first son.
One of the series of tragedies in Abraham Hasbrouck’s life was noted in his diary in early 1724. When he was entering his 17th year, Abraham’s father Joseph died leaving a widow with eleven children, aged 2 to 17. Shortly after the death of their father, Abraham recorded that the farm was devastated by hail. The orchards were hit hard, and the rye destroyed. If the storm was not enough, locusts wreaked more havoc.
In 1734 Abraham decided to leave the farm and journeyed to Boston, Massachusetts where he intended to pursue the life of a merchant. His diary states that he returned to Guilford the next winter, and by June he had settled in Kingston, New York where he would spend the rest of his life. Where and when he met his future wife Cathrina Bruyn is lost to time, but they married and he quickly rose to be one of the wealthiest men in Ulster County, becoming a member of the New York State Colonial Assembly.
Life would again test Abraham Hasbrouck’s resolve when four of his children died, including three daughters between 1746 and 1747, and a son in 1759. Incidentally, one of the things that makes the diary a genealogist’s nightmare is that Hasbrouck had two daughters named Cathrina, two with the named Geertruy, and two sons named Daniel. This is explained by the fact that when a beloved child passed away, they Hasbrouck’s (like many others) used the same name for the next child.Two daughters died from measles, one from the bloody flux, and his son Daniel from what Hasbrouck called “cinch cough” known today as whooping cough.
We tend to take for granted the advances in modern medicine. Common ailments we now vaccinate against, or have easy remedies for, took many lives, especially among children. Death during childbirth, for mother and child, was more common. Hasbrouck not only recorded events in his immediate family, but also those of his extended family. For this reason, the diary can provide insight into the study of the diseases that plagued Kingston during this period.
The diary contains moving accounts of a grief stricken Abraham. One of the most moving – contained in some of the diary transcriptions, but omitted in still others - was the death of Cathrina who passed away at the age of seven in 1747.
Often keeping a diary, can help channel grief and help make sense out of life events that just don’t make sense. This appears to be one of the reasons Hasbrouck kept his diary, but he also sought a record for both for himself, and for posterity. Thus he introduced the description of his daughter’s death as “a true relation or short account of the last words of my daughter Cathrina Hasbrouck… I may call her dying words to mind all the days of my life and that my children and children’s children may read this after my decease…”.
Cathrina died after an illness of 17 days, and Hasbrouck opens the entry:
“My daughter Cathrina Hasbrouck my first born child departed this transitory life and rest in the Lord until His glorious coming to judge both quick & dead: it being Saturday, the 5th day of December about nine o’clock & ten minutes in the evening …..aged seven years, eight months, five days & nine hours….”
Abraham Hasbrouck’s grief jumps off the page. He wrote with dismay that his oldest daughter, then on the mend, started her final decline. Abraham, with writing utensil in hand, wrote that his wife sat on the side of the bed (presumably he sat close to the bed as well). Cathrina remarked to her bereft parents, and other family members in the room, that she could hear the most beautiful music. She asked her parents what it was she was hearing, saying it was, in Hasbrouck’s words, “the sweetest singing that she had even heard in her life claiming that she saw angels hovering about her bed.”
Perhaps sensing death nearing, Cathrina recited prayers. She stopped when she saw her parents, and other family members weeping, asking them: “My daddy don’t cry for I don’t die. Mammy don’t cry for I don’t dye, Uncle Severyn don’t cry, I don’t dye. Leentie don’t cry for I don’t dye.”
The dying child called for her sister Elsie and brother Joseph. “We awakened them,” Hasbrouck wrote, “…and they embraced each other & kissed one another several times and then I brought her brother Joseph to her, just aroused out of sleep and but young yet, would not kiss her, I lifted him up and brought his face to hers, she then stretched or reached her face and kissed him and said to him so lovingly, farewell Josey… She died shortly after…” Reading the entry conjures Charles Wilson Peale’s “Rachel Weeping,” which depicts Peale’s wife crying over their daughter who had succumbed to Yellow Fever.
Cathrina Hasbrouck passed away on Saturday December 5, 1747. According to Abraham she was buried in the churchyard of the Dutch Reformed Church in Kingston. Hasbrouck noted that the burial took place on a Monday, and that Cathrina was buried in the same coffin as her sister Geertruy (the second of Hasbrouck’s daughters of that name), who had died only days before.
Tragedy almost seemed to stalk Abraham. He recorded the deaths of his brothers, sisters, and children, in addition to his personal catastrophes. In an often quoted account during the American War for Independence he recorded the burning of his house, he believed by the British, in New York City in 1776, as well as the accidental fire that consumed his home in Kingston that same year. Recording that he had lost nearly everything in his shop and home, including a clock, a great burden. “I was unable to help myself,” he wrote “I lay in bed lame in most all my limbs so that I could not go or walk as little as a first born child.” Shortly after his home in Kingston was rebuilt and they had moved in, it was burned by the British when they sacked Kingston in October 1777. He believed his losses topped £10,000.
Abraham Hasbrouck died in the early morning hours of November 10, 1791, at the ripe old age of 84. According to his son, who took over the diary’s entries for the death of his father, Abraham had fallen on his way to bed and never recovered. A few minutes before he died, he called to his wife and kissed her goodbye. His body was interred the next day in the graveyard of the Dutch Reformed Church in Kingston near those of his children.
The diary he had started some seven decades before, and carried all through his life, would be continued by his sons, and then a grandson well into the 19th century.
Illustrations from above: “Rachel Weeping” by Charles Wilson Peale; The Abraham Hasbrouck House (courtesy Historic Huguenot Street); the grave of Geertruy Hasbrouck; and the grave of patentee Abraham Hasbrouck (cemetery photos courtesy the author).